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katrina hart interview

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KATRINA HART

14 January 2011

Commonwealth Games gold medallist Katrina Hart  - a member of the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team currently in New Zealand for the IPC Athletics World Championships (21-30 January) - is the latest athlete to be featured on UKA’s website (below) as part of an ongoing series focusing on UKA’s World Class Performance Programme (Paralympic) athletes in the countdown to the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Four times Paralympian Stephen Miller was the first athlete to be profiled earlier this summer, followed by former F44 long jump World Record holder Stefanie Reid and Beijing Paralympic Games silver medallist Libby Clegg. Ben Rushgrove, Hart’s training partner in Bath, was most recently featured in October.

Many words used in association with the old party classic “The Birdie Dance,” but performance - certainly of a credible or...whisper it...world class, nature - isn’t one of them.

While imitation may be one of the finest forms of flattery, in Katrina Hart’s case it’s a definite coincidence, because in reality, the “Sparrow Dance” is far more endearing than its aged counterpart.

“It’s a bit of a joke within our training group,” explains the Commonwealth gold medallist who is based in Bath with fellow Paralypmian Ben Rushgrove, the 2008 T36 100m silver medallist. “They nickname me ‘Sparrow’ because I’m small and I flap my arms around when I’m running. When they’re supporting me they shout at me to flap my ‘wings’.”

The dance has since gone global; “I was having a laugh and practicing it when we were in the holding camp before the Commonwealth Games in Delhi,” she continues. “At the Games they were cheering me on when I was racing, shouting ‘sparrow, sparrow!’ then Monty (Montell Douglas) did it in the relay...I think that was the highlight of my trip!

“Afterwards they took a picture of the dance...I printed it off ten times and wrapped up Rob’s birthday present in it (her coach, Rob Ellchuk), he couldn’t stop laughing.”

October was a month to remember for the 20-year-old Birchfield Harrier. Not only did she deservedly earn the honour of claiming England’s first athletics gold medal at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi with victory in the T37 100m final – a phenomenal performance which she delivered in a new personal best time and British record of 14.36 seconds – but she went on to be voted the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) `Athlete of the Month' after winning a public vote. 

“I didn’t get off to as good start as I would have liked (in Delhi) but Jenny pushed me all the way and that’s probably why I got a personal best,” says Hart who finished 0.32 seconds ahead of her Aviva GB & NI team mate and Welsh internationalist Jenny McLoughlin.

“I knew before Doha that I was running really well, so even when I was behind in the race I was confident I could go up a gear.”

Much of that confidence has been built over a two year period of training under the guidance of Rob Ellchuk in Bath. Prior to her move south Hart was based in Worcester, but she’s now at home in Somerset and benefiting from the competition and camaraderie her training group offers.

Overall, the Commonwealth Games was a rewarding but also challenging experience for the University of Bath Sports Performance student. “I really enjoyed myself out there, but I was so nervous when we first arrived into Doha...that was only two weeks out and it really hit me,” she says.

“It was also hard without my coach there because he would have maintained some level of normality by trying to keep things similar to our training back home, but Bethy (Bethany Woodward) didn’t have her coach either so we helped each other.”

Such positive themes were consistent throughout their stay and integration was also key as the full England team - athletes with and without disabilities - pulled together.

“We were split up a bit in Doha and I found it quite hard to communicate with some of the others on the team, but that was because we didn’t know one another and not because we were afraid to mix,” she admits. “It was great once we got into the Athletes Village in Delhi though...we were sharing flats and it was a lot of fun. It was a bit quiet at first then we all got talking. We had a real laugh.”

As well as the friendship of new team mates, Hart, who has Cerebral Palsy, had clearly captured the attention of the general public. In the closely fought IPC poll she claimed 48% of the public vote and left Canadian Kyle Pettey - who set a new World Record in winning Commonwealth Games Shot Putt gold (F32/34/52) - in second.

Honest and unassuming, the Birmingham City supporter says she was just pleased to know that people had voted for her. Perhaps it’s an indication of the growing public awareness of Paralympic sport and the increased profile of the elite athletes who perform on the world stage, but in the countdown to London 2012 it’s an undeniably positive shift in perception; athletes are now being applauded for their efforts as elite performers and not just because they have story.

Hart, who was introduced to Paralympic sport at the age of 14, celebrated her international debut as the youngest member of the Aviva GB & NI team when she won a bronze medal in the T37 100m at the 2005 European Championships in Finland. She went on to finish seventh on her Paralympic Games debut in Beijing three years later 2008.   

Her sporting life had previously revolved around football – she’d played non-league football at Kidderminster Harriers - but she was soon rewarded for her talent and commitment on the track and when she secured funding she made the decision to focus on athletics full time. “All of a sudden I just didn’t enjoy football as much as I wanted to and enjoyment is key, that’s what drives me.”

“That would be my message to young athletes starting out in sport,” she concludes; “the most important thing is to enjoy it - you’ll excel because of that - but you have to be serious about your involvement to succeed.

“I’m totally committed to athletics but I’m motivated and I love it, that makes it easier. I want to win gold out in New Zealand (at the IPC Athletics World Championships) – I won’t settle for anything less.”

These interviews are published first in The Big Read on: http://www.insideworldparasport.biz/

The series continues next month.