Keely Hodgkinson heading to Olympics with point to prove as she eyes top prize

Keely Hodgkinson heading to Olympics with point to prove as she eyes top prize

Keely Hodgkinson has come a long way from her breakthrough Olympic silver medal in Tokyo but knows she will head into the Paris Games still with a point to prove.

Hodgkinson was second to Athing Mu in the women’s 800 metres final three years ago – at a time when both runners were just 19.

Since then Hodgkinson has won two European titles over the distance but is without a gold at a top-tier global competition, having twice taken world championship silver.

Keely Hodgkinson burst into the spotlight with her Olympic silver in Tokyo (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Archive)

With Mu having cruelly failed to qualify for Paris after falling during the US trials, the expectation is now on Hodgkinson’s shoulders.

It is a pressure she accepts.

“I think so,” Hodgkinson said when asked if she still had something to prove. “Unfortunately (Mu) is not going to be in Paris this year, which I was very gutted about. This race has been really pumped up and then something like this happens.

“If that was me, I’d be devastated, so it’s not nice to see that happen to someone.

“But even though she’s not there, it’s still so hard to achieve (gold). It’s just one less person to worry about. It’s going to be difficult. It’s the Olympic Games and anything can happen.”

Reigning Olympic champion Athing Mu will not be in Paris after falling at the US trials (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Archive)

Hodgkinson cannot help but be aware of the pressure on her. But the 22-year-old sees that as a positive.

“As someone said, ‘Pressure is a privilege’,” she said. “I really, really resonate with that. I think it’s such a fortunate position to be in. I think as an athlete, when you’re in the position with pressure on this or that, when that’s taken away from you, you realise how much you want it.

“I don’t want to be in the position where that’s taken away from me. I kind of want to enjoy it all and take it all on board.

“It’s not such a bad thing to have. It makes you nervous but it gets the adrenaline pumping.”

Hodgkinson’s silver in Tokyo capped a remarkable rise through the junior ranks.

Keely Hodgkinson celebrated her second silver medal at a world championships in Budapest in 2023, but remains without a gold at world level (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Archive)

Had the Covid-hit Games gone ahead on schedule and not in 2021, Hodgkinson would not have been taking part.

That afforded her a freedom she knows is now gone.

“I was very upcoming,” she said. “It’s a position I’ll never have again, I don’t think. Just the freedom. Just being there for the experience, where it didn’t really matter how I did but I knew what I could do.

“Now, three years later, I think I’m a better athlete than I was then but there’s an expectation. It kind of melds together. It’s kind of cool to do it again. Can we go one better?”

Hodgkinson has done a lot of growing up since Tokyo, leaving home and leaving university to train full-time, not to mention the considerable task of adjusting to the spotlight she had brought for herself.

Like so many athletes who were making their Olympic debuts during the pandemic, Hodgkinson was left feeling she had not had the proper experience – competing in empty venues, unable to mix with fellow athletes in the village, and missing some key supporters behind the scenes.

Paris will be like a second debut in that regard.

“I feel like this is going to be my first proper Olympic experience,” she said. “Last time, with Covid, they did an amazing job of putting it on but I feel now, with the crowds, and even just having your sponsors there doing special things for you, it’s going to be the proper experience.

“I’m just really excited, particularly for the crowds.”