British high jump record holder and 2014 Commonwealth silver medallist Isobel Pooley has bowed out of the 2016 Rio Olympic selection process because of an ankle injury.
In her latest BBC Sport column, the 23-year-old opens up about the disappointment of missing out on her Olympic dream – but how the death of her older sister when she was a child helps keep things in perspective.
‘A specialist said I’d be mad to compete’
As you might be aware, I have been dealing with an injury in the build up to Rio 2016 Olympic selection. Up until May 2016 it seemed almost certain I would be named on the team, since I had three qualifying standards and was confident of a top-two finish at the British Championships.
However, I experienced significant ankle pain during my first outdoor competition and, upon my return, scans revealed a stress response in my tibia. This was a major blow as the recovery time was estimated at three months – and this was three weeks before the British Championships, where I had hoped to secure automatic selection for the Games.
A top foot and ankle specialist (who knew such a thing existed?) plainly stated that I would be mad to compete, highlighting the risk of causing the injury to progress to a full-blown stress fracture which would involve a much longer recovery time and threaten my 2017 season as well as terminating the 2016 one.
I wasn’t ready to give in though, and it was agreed that I would have another scan in three weeks to assess whether it was sensible to pursue my 2016 dreams any further. The follow-up images showed a marginal improvement but it was enough for me to take up my spot at the European Championships in Amsterdam, where I would bid for last-minute Rio selection. I was grateful and proud to have cleared this intermediate hurdle.
Regrettably, though, over the course of the qualifying round I was increasingly aware that my ankle wasn’t functioning as it should and after the competition it was alarmingly sore and swollen. I hadn’t qualified for the final and in any case there was no chance of being fit to compete any further at the championships.
During pivotal discussions with my coach and the team doctor I concluded that the risks involved with pushing my body to compete again this year were unacceptable. More to the point, I felt strongly that I needed to respect my body’s limitations and recognise the heroic efforts made by the whole team to give me the chance of competing in Rio.
I’m absolutely gutted that I won’t be becoming an Olympian this time around.
I’ve heard many accounts of how amazing the Team GB kit is – and the bittersweet news that my photo is on the wall in the kitting-out centre in Birmingham. This goes to show how close I was to making it but also proves that anything can happen to anyone, so nothing is a given.
Competing at the Games is one of the highest honours in sport and it is a real blow to have to wait four years until my next opportunity. However, I’m in good company – some of the best athletes in the world have missed out on the Olympics but gone on to dominate in subsequent years (Jessica Ennis-Hill, for example).
I am confident that I’m making the only sensible choice in not pursuing Rio selection any further and it helps me to know that I’ve been totally honest about the situation throughout. I have an amazing team around me, with whom it’s a total pleasure to work. There are many people who I would like to thank for their unrelenting support and confidence.
I will be undergoing a nuclear bone scan on Tuesday and meeting the specialist on Wednesday to plan my recovery process. It’s likely that I will have surgery to stabilise the bone using a metal pin. Anyhow, I am expecting to have a two-month period wearing a supportive boot before I can do plyometric exercise again.
While the timing is appalling for my 2016 Olympic prospects, it’s great for next year as I anticipate being ready to throw myself into winter training on – or before – the usual timeframe of 1 October. In fact, I feel as though I have been given some of my summer back – during the months of May-September we athletes are usually totally immersed in competing and preparing for the big event of the year, missing out on other aspects of summer culture.
As much as I would love to still be working towards the 2016 Games, this option is no longer available to me and I am intending to make the most of my freedom. I would hope that I won’t be in this position again in my career so I’m going to enjoy all the summer fun that my ankle allows, while I have the chance!
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