Steeplechaser Rosie Clarke aims to put her World Championships nightmare behind her when she competes for England at the Commonwealth Games in the spring. The Mixed Zone’s Will Moulton hears the story of a late blooming athlete
It is the stuff of nightmares for any track athlete: they are competing in the biggest race of their career, in front of thousands of home fans screaming encouragement, only to suffer the ultimate mortification of crashing to the ground and the rest of the field disappearing over the horizon. Rosie Clarke lived the bad dream in her heat of the 3,000 metres steeplechase at the World Championships in London last summer after twice coming a cropper at the water jump. It was the first time she had fallen competitively.
Not to be beaten, Clarke showed tremendous spirit to get back up on both occasions and continue to try and reach the final. Her effort was in vain, but the consolation was that her dogged determination won the hearts and minds of the crowd who cheered her all the way to the finish-line and beyond. That is something Clarke will never forget.
“The crowd were phenomenal,” says the 26-year-old Epsom & Ewell Harrier. “Watching it back I was blown away. You don’t realise at the time because you’re in a bit of a daze, but when I watched it back I realised that it really was something special. It spurred me on to go for better things.”
Indeed, the feelings of what-if and if-only surfaced shortly after the disappointment of London when she demonstrated her form by not only staying upright but setting a personal best in the 3,000 metres flat at Birmingham’s Diamond League meeting. And to underline further her potential to compete with the best on the planet, she finished only three seconds behind the American Emma Coburn, who had just been crowned world steeplechase champion.
Clarke, the 2016 British champion, has another chance to land a medal at a major championship in April, having been selected to complete in the steeplechase at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast. That will represent another milestone in a rather unconventional career that did not start in earnest until she left home at 18.
Though she had dabbled with the high jump in her youth, Clarke had never taken athletics seriously until she started her accounting and finance degree at the University of Bath. Even then she only went along to the athletics club because her friends were going.
“I was always quite sporty,” she says. “I played lacrosse and netball and I swam at school, but I didn’t train properly. I was enjoying being a teenager, I suppose. I always picked things up really quickly, but I never really tested myself. I got into running at university, the 800 and 1500 metres, because that’s what my friends were doing at the time.”
Her progress was such that she claimed a surprise second place behind Laura Muir in the 1500 metres at the British Indoor Championships of 2015. It was to prove the pivotal moment in her burgeoning career as it proved she had the talent to compete at the highest level. Recalling the race, Clarke says: “My coach Michael Firth was completely bemused. I don’t think he had any idea that I was going to do that.
“I was very much a recreational runner with my university. But from there I realised that we might be on to something and I started to focus on it a little bit more. My family and my partner John have always been really supportive and encouraged me to go as far as I can take it. I’m really pleased I did because I love what I do now.”
That silver medal in the national championships led to Clarke representing Great Britain in the 1500 metres at the 2015 European Indoor Championships before current coach David Harmer, sensing a gap in the market, suggested moving up to 3,000 metres.
Unlike University team-mates Jake Wightman and Eilish McColgan, there was no family influence for Clarke to follow; neither parent had any background in the sport. However, in a twist in the tale, mother Denise has been so inspired by her daughter that she has taken up running.
“She only started about three or four years ago and is doing fantastically well,” Clarke says. “I really enjoy watching my mum run and it’s nice to have that understanding between my parents and myself. Obviously it’s at a different level, but she gets what I’m trying to do and she’s always there if I need support or somebody to sound off to occasionally.”
Not that the daughter has much chance to reciprocate by cheering on her mother as since graduating she is based full-time in Loughborough.
Despite her rapid ascent, Clarke insists there is no secret to her success other than hard work, admitting that even her diet is not really different to the average Joe. She says: “I would say most athletes I’ve come into contact with – myself included – try to eat very healthily. I don’t think I eat anything particularly strange at all, though.
“Everything I eat is freshly prepared and largely organic. But I eat everything – I eat chocolate, I have ice cream if I want it! Pre-race I normally go for a chilli con carne or something like that. And then I will always have something like steak and chips cooked at home after a race. It’s what I want and I always enjoy it!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Will Moulton is a ‘Gold Standard’ NCTJ-qualified sports journalist and a First Class graduate from Durham University who aspires to one day commentate on international cricket and an Olympic Games. He is hugely passionate about a number of sports – including cricket, hockey, football and rugby – and also has two national cheerleading titles to his name. Will’s latest articles