Mike Rowbottom

Less than a year after home pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale finished sixth in the London 2012 Olympic final her career turned golden at the European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg.

I was present in the Scandinavium Arena to see this Lancashire lass win the title ahead of Poland’s Anna Rogowska. 

After both had cleared 4.67 metres at the second attempt and failed at 4.72m there could have been a similar spectacle as occurred in the following year’s World Indoor Championships, where Mariya Kuchina of Russia - later to win three world titles and the Tokyo 2020 gold under her married name of Lasitskene - and home jumper Kamila Licwinko shared the women’s high jump title after both had cleared 2.00m and failed at 2.02m.

Or indeed, as occurred in last summer’s Tokyo 2020 men’s high jump final, where sometime training partners Mutaz Barshim of Qatar and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi suddenly and gloriously decided to share the title at the end of a long, muggy night rather than grinding the edges off each other in an arduous extra series of jumps.

Whatever Rogowska felt about sharing the title in Gothenburg, Bleasdale - as she still was then - had no hesitation. Jump-off.

After both failed once again at 4.72m the bar came back down to 4.67m and this time only the Briton cleared it.

Which is all by way of establishing that Holly Bradshaw, as she has been for many years now, is a tough and competitive cookie.

Indeed, this week the current women’s Olympic champion, Katie Nageotte of the United States, described Bradshaw, who earned bronze in that delayed Tokyo 2020 competition, as "the toughest athlete I’ve possibly ever met."

Nageotte’s comments came in the wake of the announcement that she and Bradshaw had been awarded the International Fair Play Committee (CIFP) Fair Play Award as part of the World Athletics Awards 2022.

At this summer’s World Athletics Championships in Oregon Bradshaw was injured as she warmed up for the qualifying competition after her pole snapped and she landed on her neck in the pit.

Distraught, she was comforted by her American friend and rival, who eventually added gold to her Olympic title of the summer before.

Nageotte then stepped up to defend Bradshaw after she had become the subject of social media abuse after withdrawing injured to allow another athlete to seek a place in the final.

CIFP secretary general Sunil Sabharwal commented: "When we look for an act of fair play, we are looking for an act where someone goes beyond the call of duty, at times putting themselves at risk.

"Here what we had was a series of events.

"If you think about sports media or sports history, this kind of social media hate is a new phenomenon and the Committee and the jury felt that this unwanted, unnecessary and undesired criticism by people who really don’t know what is going on, needs to be called out.

"We were unanimous in supporting this."

Nageotte added that the abuse the Briton had faced demonstrated "ignorance around our sport".

The announcement of the award came a couple of days after the release of an Online Abuse Study commissioned by World Athletics that monitored the social media of 461 athletes involved in the Oregon 2022 World Championships.

"Sixty per cent of all detected online abuse was sexual or racial in nature with racism comments depicted in the form of offensive deployment of the N-word, and in the use of monkey emojis against black athletes," the report said.

"This 'weaponisation' of emojis as part of racist abuse is now common online.

"When abuse types are broken down by gender, half of all abuse targeting female athletes was of a sexualised nature.

"Abuse targeting male athletes tended to include general slurs, with a significant proportion (29 per cent) of racist abuse also detected."

Just under 60 per cent of the abusive messages were received by women, and sexual and sexualised abuse - "overwhelmingly targeted at female athletes" - made up more than 40 per cent of all detected abusive posts.

British pole vaulter Holly Bradshaw has been defended by her friend and rival Katie Nageotte, the Olympic champion from the United States, after receiving abuse on social media ©Getty Images
British pole vaulter Holly Bradshaw has been defended by her friend and rival Katie Nageotte, the Olympic champion from the United States, after receiving abuse on social media ©Getty Images

The report also found that abuse "tended to be driven by events outside of competition - athletes were targeted over controversies associated with athletics, but not necessarily driven by results in the stadium."

However, for Bradshaw, the abusive comments were very much drawn from something that happened within the stadium.

Last week in response to a request from insidethegames she spoke at length about the experience and her strategies of coping with the increasingly common phenomenon of online abuse.

"There were just comments as to, ‘I only fell from two feet, why didn’t I get up?’ ‘Oh, it’s a squidgy mat, why couldn’t she carry on?’ Almost implying like I was playing on it, being a bit of a drama queen," Bradshaw said.

"In terms of falling into the report, a lot of the report was about sexism and racism.

"I’ve definitely experienced sexism in the past, but on this occasion it was very much relating to my performance.

"Mostly people were having a go because I withdrew after the pole snap. The thing that’s frustrating was the naivety towards that. I absolutely wanted to carry on. It’s a World Championship qualification and I'd prepared for this moment for the whole year.

"I’m not the kind of person to shy away from that and if I could have gone on I absolutely would have, but in terms of emotionally but also physically I was actually hurt.

"So I think just understanding the nature of the event before people make comments is really important.

"I’d struggled with abuse before, mainly about body image, how I look, relating to my personal appearance. And I think people making uninformed comments on social media - they don’t understand the effect it can have on someone.

"I am not a professional footballer. I deal with my social media, someone else doesn’t do it for me, so the chances are I’m going to read every single comment there is.

"I always just say to people, if you want to make a comment, make it to a friend, make it to your family at home, but do not go on Twitter and make a horrible remark, because it really does affect someone."

Britain's Holly Bradshaw was one of 461 athletes at this summer's World Championships in Oregon whose social media posts were monitored in an Online Abuse Study commissioned by World Athletics ©Getty Images
Britain's Holly Bradshaw was one of 461 athletes at this summer's World Championships in Oregon whose social media posts were monitored in an Online Abuse Study commissioned by World Athletics ©Getty Images

Bradshaw reflected on the abuse she has received on social media throughout her career.

"I don’t think it was worse in Oregon compared to what I’d had before," she told insidethegames. "I think, given my experience, I was able to bat off what happened in Oregon, and the fact that some of my team-mates, especially Katie Nageotte, stood up and really fought back definitely made me feel a lot better.

"But I definitely feel like the abuse I received as an 18, 19, 20-year-old was a lot worse.

"I just didn’t know how to deal with it, it really affected me, it was a lot more personal, whereas this one just felt like they’d lashed out at something I’d done in terms of a competition and it didn’t feel like it was attacking me and my personal values.

"But that’s not to say it wasn’t uncalled for - it absolutely wasn’t called for. Just because you couldn’t see the physical injuries that I had didn’t mean I wasn’t hurt.

"In terms of the strategies, I would say that I have just learned as I have got older to block people as soon as they give a negative comment.

"I think a lot of the time I would go back on social media and check through them and almost that felt like advice, it was like these people who were following me were giving me advice.

"That they must be right, they must mean something. Whereas actually I have been able to distinguish between those people who are being really nice and giving me positive comments, versus those I can compartmentalise, those that are just giving their opinion where it’s not really warranted or needed.

"It’s not to say it doesn’t still affect me, because when I read a negative comment there is a part of me inside that’s like ‘that’s harmful to me.’ But I’m able to block it and just move on because I can rationalise that they probably wouldn’t say that to me if they met me in person, so they probably don’t mean what they are saying.

"I’ve had good support on this. I’ve been seeing a psychologist now for the last 10 years for multiple different things. She’s helped me to rationalise such comments.

"I also have multiple social media detoxes throughout the year, to really come away from all that.

"The report showed that the abuse was way more seen on Twitter, which I absolutely agree with. I very rarely have negative comments on Instagram.

"But on Twitter I tend to have negative comments made when I have a failure or when I don’t do so well or on body image, anything like that. People just make comments.

"So I think for me having a social media detox, especially from Twitter to get away from all that, is really, really important - something that I’ve found really useful."