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Sophie PappsOctober 8, 2014
Sophie Papps told Athletics Weekly why she nearly quit the sport aged 19 but is now full of confidence
Pictures: Mark Shearman
Sophie Papps is one of Britain’s most promising young female sprint talents, yet it was less than a year ago that she was considering quitting the sport.
The Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow AC athlete could have easily become the latest in a long line of female teenage sprint prodigies from Britain to either quit prematurely or fail to meet their potential as seniors.
Papps, who was sixth in the 100m at the IAAF World Junior Championships in 2012, explains: “Last year I lost the passion for athletics. I struggled at competitions and never really enjoyed training. I suffered with a few injuries at the beginning of the year, which set me back after a promising winter. Mentally I struggled coming to terms with the injuries that kept coming back and making my training suffer.
“I continued to try and race and compete through this stage and I don’t think mentally I recovered. I made the European Junior team not really expecting to make it through the first round and for the first time in my life I was okay with not doing well and the thought of not winning a medal I was okay with too.”
However, she enjoyed a dramatic reversal which she calls “life changing” in that event in Rieti, Italy, thanks to meeting Bath-based Dan Cossins, who would later become her coach.
“He inspired me to believe that I was good and able to gain a medal,” she recalls.
She went on to take silver in the 100m. “I can’t thank Dan enough for what he did for me at European Juniors,” she says. Luckily with the most supportive family and boyfriend I’m now living my dream in Bath and I look back on last year and believe that everything that happened was for a reason, and I thank everyone that believed in me and helped me to get through it.”
An even better winter was to follow when Papps, aged 19, made her senior international debut at the IAAF World Indoor Championships.
Throughout the indoor season, she improved her 60m PB from 7.39 to 7.22 to go to equal 10th on the UK all-time rankings and make the semi-final in Sopot.
It was partly this that made her one of five recipients recently of the Jean Pickering Memorial Scholarships, which represents £62,500 in funding of young prospects. The appointments were made to mark the first anniversary of the death of the former international athlete who worked tirelessly to administer the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund in honour of the her late husband.
Explaining what the investment in her will mean, she says: “It is really going to change my life in the next few years. I moved to Bath seven months ago with no job and no real money to get me through the next few months. Luckily I have the most supportive family behind me that knew Bath was where I needed to be.
“Having been financially supported by my family for seven months, the funding means I can stay training in Bath without money worries and without the pressing thought of whether I can hold down a full-time job and train to a high standard. I can’t thank the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund enough for how they are going to help me over the next few years.”
Speaking from Florida where she is enjoying her first warm-weather stint and her first trip outside Europe, Papps tells AW she is optimistic of carrying her indoor form into the summer.
Last weekend she opened up her season with a PB of 23.30 into a headwind of 1.3m/second in the 200m.
She says: “The indoor season has really boosted my confidence after a bad year last year. I can’t wait to see the improvements outdoors.
“My main aim of the season is to make my first senior outdoors team. I had an amazing time at World Indoors and it has definitely inspired me to get into that environment again. With the Commonwealth Games being in Glasgow, it gives you that feeling of a home games that I would love to be a part of.”
As a former winner at the Commonwealth Youth Games, she is no stranger to success at that level and she also won English Schools, European Youth and English national titles during a great junior career.
However, might she follow in the footsteps of the likes of Amy Spencer and Vernicha James in quitting the sport soon after coming out of a glorious junior spell or be among a few other promising talents who barely improved as seniors?
She says: “From personal experience I can understand why young girls might quit athletics before really making their senior debut. I struggled in 2013 in understanding why I was competing anymore and why I was spending five days a week at a track.
“However I now have so much trust in my coach that we will get the long-term goals correct and that we will work together to ensure I stay in the best condition possible for a long time.
“I’ve seen him do this with Danny Talbot (2012 European 200m bronze medallist). Having coached him from a young age he’s now reaching senior teams and medalling at championships so I have all the faith that he will do the same for me.”
After her indoor season and opening to the season in Gainesville, she is showing every sign she will not only improve significantly on her PB of 11.47 for 100m this year, but also not become a forgotten former junior star.
And of course the funding from the Jean Pickering Memorial Scholarships will help in that regard too.
“The funding means I can stay training in Bath without money worries and without the pressing thought of whether I can hold down a full-time job and train to a high standard.
“I can’t thank the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund enough for how they are going to help me over the next few years.”