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Tue 26th Sep 2017
© Delly Carr/ITU
Interview: Andrea Whitcombe
Posted by: Annie Emmerson
Posted on: Friday 13th June 2008

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Sport can be a cruel game, to make it to the top an athlete has to be prepared to sacrifice everything and, even then, there are no guarantees of victory or selection for the Olympic Games. 2004's Olympic reserve, Andrea Whitcombe, knows this only to well. As Great Britain's highest ranked athlete for the last four years, and with her best start to the season ever, the 36-year-old, looked to be one of the outstanding favourites to make the Beijing Olympic team. Sadly, and without warning, an Achilles injury appeared, leaving Andrea standing on the startline at the final Olympic selection race having missed six weeks of running and lacking the form that saw her start the year so positively. Now with her Olympic dream cruelly snatched away from her, she's trying to look positively towards the twilight era of her career.

AE Having been to Athens as a reserve and experienced the Olympic atmosphere, you must have been really determined to make the team for Beijing this year?

AW Yes, I really was, after such a great start to the season where I got fifth and sixth in my first two World Cup races (Australia and New Zealand respectively) I really had high hopes of making the team.

AE As a reserve you pretty much go all the way to the Olympics and have to attend the holding camp right up until the day the athletes leave for the Olympic village, it must be hard to be that close knowing that you probably won't get a chance to race?

AW Yes, it's a strange time, you have to stay very focused because there is a chance you will have to race, but you know it's a pretty slim chance. Being there and living that experience, but not actually racing, really motivated me over the last four years to make the Beijing Olympic team this year.

AE So now it's happened twice [not making the team] and having lead the Brits in the World rankings for the last four years this time round must feel even worse?

AW It took me a while to get over not making the team in 2004. I was bitterly disappointed, but I came away from it and proceeded to have one of the best years I've ever had. I was really determined to make the team this year and I was really positive at the beginning of the year, but I became a little bit despondent when I got injured and I lost some of the confidence I had at the beginning of the year, when my season started so well.

AE To suffer an injury six weeks out from Madrid must have been really tough, what happened?

AW It really happened so suddenly, that it's hard to explain. There was no warning, I didn't feel anything coming on, I just got off the bike in Mooloolaba and felt quite a lot of pain in my Achilles. In hindsight I wished I'd stopped there and then, but you've invested so much just to be there that it's really not something you want to consider. Also I was in a great place, I'd had a really good swim and was in the front pack, it was important too, that I finished for the points.

AE Injuries are the bane of just about every athletes’ life at some stage in their career, especially at such crucial times when you're training so hard and your body is more susceptible to injury. Some of Great Britain's athletics team has suffered some major set backs before their Olympic trials, look at Jessica Ennis, Mark Lewis Francis, Paula Radcliffe. How do you cope with an injury (mentally and physically) at such a crucial time in your career?

AW It's such a shame for all those guys, I understand what they're going through. I feel so unlucky - I haven't had this much time off running for fifteen years, in fact the last time I had so much time off is probably when I gave up running. When I was injured in 2003 I had six weeks off, but this just seems to be dragging on, it's just really bad timing and maybe I just over did it. I was running so well, at the Nationals I had a really bad cold and was really under the weather, but still got sixth. I won the UK Challenge Cross Country race in Cardiff, which got me a place on the front cover of Athletics Weekly. It was funny I didn't know anything about it until a friend rang me and told me, I hadn't been on the cover for a long time, not since my running career.

AE What were your thoughts immediately after the selection race in Madrid knowing, that after such strong performances from Helen and Hollie, that you were unlikely to make the team?

AW I was really, really disappointed straight after Madrid, as I knew I wouldn't get one of the first two slots, especially seeing how well Helen and Hollie had raced.

AE Was there no discussion about you getting one of the reserve slots?

AW I knew that was the best I could have hoped for, but they didn't give me one. I thought that going on my races at the beginning of the year, and the fact that my world ranking had help achieve one of the Olympic slots, that they might have considered me, but they didn't. I had a really good start to the year and have been the most consistent athlete for the last four years and I have to say that I'm really disappointed and sad. It would have been easier if they had called me and said, look we'd like to pick you as reserve, but you've been injured for six weeks and that's a concern, but they never even mentioned my injury, all they said was that they were going to pick two domestiques, as no one else had made the criteria. Without a doubt it was a real kick in the teeth and I just feel that all my last four year's effort to be the number one ranked British athlete have been pointless.

AEWhat do you think of Helen and Hollie's performance.

AW They're both really lovely girls - Helen's one of the nicest girls in the sport. They both had amazing performances in Madrid and deserve to be going to the Olympics. I do really wish them the best of luck, obviously I would love to be going with them, but that's life.

AE Your swimming was a little below par in Madrid, do you think there's more you could have done to improve your swimming?

AW I don't think so, I've been training with a really good squad in Swansea and I've been training up to ten hours a week. It was really cold in Madrid and I'm not good in the cold, I would also prefer a non-wetsuit swim, which would have been the same as Beijing. I know it's the same for everyone, but I do perform much better when it's warm, in the first two World Cups, for example, I made the front pack.

AE How are things going since you found out you weren't going to make the team, in any capacity?

AW Well it's pretty tough to say the least and right now I haven't got a lot of enthusiasm to train. I think it's just everything at the moment, my injury and knowing that I've got to get a job, as I know that at the end of the month my lottery funding stops as I didn't make the team. I've been to the job centre and I'm looking at the Welsh Sports Council and Welsh Athletics as I'd love to do something with them. I'm also going to do a swimming instructors course. It's quite a shock to lose my funding at the end of this month, as it means I lose my main stream of income.

AE Going into Madrid must have been very tough, knowing that you had an injury worry and that you would lose your funding if you didn't make the team?

AW I guess sport can be fairly ruthless and you tend to be as good as your last race. When you are doing well everyone loves you, but when things don't go well then you don't tend to hear from people. It's been hard because I knew I would be off funding if I didn't make the team, but I also knew that I wouldn't find out whether I'd made the team until the end of May and I knew my funding would stop in June - it was stressful!

AE Putting the last two months aside, you've had an amazing career; both in triathlon and as a runner. At the Common Wealth Games in Kuala Lumpur you won a silver medal in the 5000m. In triathlon, amongst many great results, you've won two World Cups, finished top five in over ten World Cups and won the London Triathlon, those are pretty good results for someone who just took it up to have a go?

AW I'm so glad I took up triathlon, I never ever thought I would achieve the results I have, and make a career out of it, it was really just to have some fun.

AE Have you thought about retiring from triathlon?

AW I don't know if I will retire, right now I just need to look ahead, and work on getting some more sponsors. Without my funding it will be really tough trying to make ends meet, that said I do have got some great sponsors: Wiggle, Asics, blueseventy, Sundog and Torq, they have all been very supportive. At the moment I'd just love to get back to some good racing and would love to do some of the domestic races this year, London and Windsor especially, although Windsor is just around the corner so I'll have to see how my Achilles is! Right now after the disappointment of not making the team I just want to get strong again and get on top of my injury, I don't want to race and jeopardise it by setting myself back a few weeks again.

AE And what about international racing?

AW I will race World Cups and international races, but it will be tough funding it myself, it's a lot of money when you don't have a fixed salary. I really do want to race, I don't want to waste this year.

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