Commonwealth Games silver medallist Ashley Bryant (coach: Aston Moore) heads into next week’s European Championships with two aims at the forefront of his mind – a medal, and an Olympic qualifying standard.
The Decathlon specialist has encountered change aplenty over the past 12 months with a shake-up of lead coach and training location, with the 25 year-old feeling that the new regime has already proved its worth, albeit not quite to the extent he is looking for, yet.
“I think I look at the start of the year as being incredibly positive – I changed coach last winter and moved up to Loughborough, so it’s been a completely different program and a completely different emphasis of training in terms of technical elements. I definitely feel like it’s paid off in how I’m feeling and training, I’m just yet to see the score on paper reflect it.
“Certainly my consistency is so much higher than it’s ever been before, for the decathlon that’s so important; to be able to go into a performance dec and just rely on a 97-98% of your best week in week out is so crucial.”
As an athlete who has to contend with training and competing in ten individual disciplines, there are various elements of Bryant’s schedule which differ to that of a single competing track and field athlete. In speaking of his multiple coaches and the break-down of his new-found regime, he admits it’s been trial and error somewhat – something he expects will fall into place over the coming months.
“Aston is my lead, he’s the organiser and also leads my long jump and my sprints, but there’s also Benke (Blomkvist), Fuzz (Caan), Rob Denmark, Kate Dennison, John Hillier and David Parker who are all involved too. It’s definitely been something of a learning curve for all of us, for many of the coaches it’s the first time they’ve dealt with a decathlete, but as the year’s gone on we’ve adjusted the program as and when to suit what’s needed and when, so it’s slowly getting to where we see it being.“
While Bryant is accountable for his own training and performances other factors are out of his hands, a fact he’s had to contend with this year as an airline mishap left him without his own poles to jump off when competing at May’s Hypomeeting in Gotzis. Although a frustrating episode, Bryant doesn’t intend to dwell on the incident as he pursues the elusive Olympic standard next week in Amsterdam.
“A number of factors, whether it be it poles; whether it be rain for every pole vault event I’ve competed in, the right opportunity hasn’t quite offered itself in terms of putting that big score and qualifying standard down.
Speaking on overcoming the disappointment of falling just 44 points short of the standard in Austria, he added: “I felt I was a bit unlucky that the score didn’t come in Gotzis, but we are where we are and standards have to be met – you don’t go to the major competitions without standards. I’m fully fit and feel in good shape going into the European Championships, hopefully I get that bit of luck and some good weather and I’m confident that the score will come. I’m incredibly optimistic that at the Europeans, and then going forward to Rio, that the big score will be there as a reward for my work over the winter”
In striving to make this year’s team for the Olympics he’ll need similar to his personal best of 8141, a score which was good enough to secure Commonwealth Games silver two years ago in Glasgow. The decathlete has a wealth of major competition experience to draw upon; even as an U23 Bryant cut his teeth at several senior championships, experiences which he feels aided his development no end.
“Being in a senior team at a young age can be a little daunting – be it that you don’t know many people or are surrounded by the superstars of your country, but those championships served as a great learning experience.
“2012 was my first European Champs and although I was quite young at the time I placed relatively well. Not only that it was a great experience to be able to compete with the likes of Roman Šebrle – to see how some of the greats of your sport get to where they are; to see how they compete and compose themselves was a great learning experience.”
This year’s European Championships will see British Athletics take its biggest ever team to an international competition, as 98 athletes head to compete in Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium with the aim of breaking 2014’s record medal tally from Zurich’s championships; Bryant himself is hoping to bring home a medal.
“I think you can tell that athletics in Britain is in a good place, the British Championships were a perfect example as a great deal of the events weren’t a foregone conclusion in terms of Olympic selection. Certainly those two automatic places for Rio bring out the best of the best competition-wise, and taking such a big team to the Europeans is great going forward as it shows the depth and competitiveness, particularly for remaining Olympic places. From a selection point of view it’s a great headache to have.
“One of my targets at the start of the winter was to place highly at the Europeans and be in the fight for a medal, and I still fully believe that the opportunity will be there for me come next week.”
You can follow Ashley’s journey on Twitter at @Ashley__Bryant