In-form Breen excited by Paralympic hopes

Ian Jones and Gissele Leishman during the Havant parkrun with Hawaii theme. Picture: Keith Woodland

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Yesterday marked 100 days until the start of the Paralympic Games in Rio, Brazil – not that Olivia Breen needed telling.

The 19-year-old City of Portsmouth athlete is in the best shape she has ever been in, and excited to build on her achievements at London 2012.

Four years ago Breen – who has cerebral palsy – was the youngest member of Team GB’s Paralympic team, having just celebrated her 16th birthday.

A stunning emergence onto the international scene saw her earn a late call-up to be a part of the biggest event in the sporting calendar.

She did not disappoint.

A bronze medal in the T35-38 women’s 4x100m relay team was complemented by a fifth-placed finish in the T38 100m and eighth spot in the 200m final.

Fast forward four years and Breen is again fighting for glory on three fronts.

This time, though, she has added a field event to her track repertoire, with the long jump taking the place of the 200m, which is not offered in Rio.

And it is a challenge The News 2013 sportswoman of the year is relishing, having grown in both size and stature since London 2012.

Breen said: ‘Last time in London 2012 I was only young and I wasn’t very strong, I was very weak at the time!

‘I was lifting 1k dumbbells and now I am lifting 10k dumbbells – you can see the improvement and how strong I have got in the last four years, through hard work.

‘Last week I got a personal best (PB) in the 100m at the Loughborough International, which was really exciting.

‘I knew I was in a good shape – it was the best shape I had ever been in going into a race.

‘But I was quite annoyed that I didn’t get a good start – I didn’t hear the starter because I am deaf, so it is harder for me!

‘It just shows I can run even faster.

‘But it was really exciting to get the 2016 season off to a good start with a PB.

‘Yesterday marked 100 days until the Paralympic Games and it is a very exciting time for me.

‘I have never been to Brazil before but I love Brazilian people.

‘I have seen them in different competitions and stuff and they are so happy and so much fun – I love all of the colours.

‘They are great for the sport, a great ambassador – they are so enthusiastic and positive, and it will be really good to compete out there in a different stadium and environment.

‘I am really looking forward to it.

‘I am hoping to do the 100m, the long jump and the 4x100m relay.

‘We will just have to wait and see what happens, though, when it comes to medals.

‘It is about what shape all of the girls are in but then also the other countries and how they are looking.

‘It is all about what happens on the day.

‘In the relay, China set a new world record a couple of weeks ago when they took seven-tenths of a second off our record, so it will be interesting to see what happens in Rio.

‘We got a bronze in London 2012 and then we got a gold in Doha in 2015 at the World Championships, so confidence is high.

‘But anything can happen in the relay.

‘The baton can get dropped or someone can step out of their lane or box. It would be great to get a medal, though, definitely!’

Next month’s European Championships in Italy offers Breen the perfect platform to finetune preparations ahead of her summer trip to South America.

It is also an opportunity, though, to compete in the 200m – something Breen will be deprived of in Rio.

Her 2014 Commonwealth Games switch to long jump, however, means her Paralympics workload remains a demanding yet fulfilling one.

‘The European Championships are coming up in two weeks time, which will be really exciting,’ said Breen.

‘It will be a good lead-up event before Rio and it will be really exciting to see what shape all the other girls are in.

‘It is a bit of a shame because we haven’t got the 200m race in Rio so I am quite glad we have got it in the Europeans.

‘It will be quite nice to do a 200m again, I love doing the bend running.

‘In terms of the long jump, there was no sprinting events for me in the Commonwealth Games in 2014 so I had a long jump coach who said why not give it a try?

‘I completely fell in love with it!

‘I actually equalled my PB in the long jump the other week, so that was a really good start to the season – I have got a really good jump on me now.

‘In a competition I did a few weeks ago, my foot was just over the board but that would have been a big PB, which was exciting.

‘I really like the long jump, it is just a nice change and was nice for me to find a new event as well.’

Breen’s favourite event, though, remains the 100m sprint.

She added: ‘I love the 100m because I have worked so hard at it over the past six or seven years

‘You are up against lots of different people from lots of different countries so it is ultra-competitive.

‘It is always going to be my favourite event, definitely.

‘But I have got to just keep focused on myself, really, that is all I have got to do.’

Breen’s Rio focus was interrupted at the start of the year when a niggling toe injury threatened to frustrate the teenage talent’s Paralympic preparations.

The news on that front is positive, though, with the teenager managing the situation.

‘It is still ongoing, really, but it is getting better,’ she said.

‘I am just trying to manage it, hopefully it will be alright.

‘I have had two injections this year in my toe and the last one worked better for it, so I am just keeping on top of it.

‘Fingers crossed all will be okay!’

Alongside her track commitments, Breen has also been kept busy with her involvement in the Sky Academy – a scholarship programme of mentoring and financial support for emerging talent in sports and arts to boost their careers.

And earlier this month she was able to return to former school Bohunt with Sky to talk to current students about her achievement – a rewarding experience for all involved.

Breen said: ‘Sky have helped to change my life, they have opened a door for me.

‘I was down at my old school, Bohunt, two weeks ago with Sky and told them what I had been up to, that was really fun.

‘I have also been warm-weather training, given media training and a mentor (Di Dougherty) and it has really helped my confidence.

‘It has came at such a good time for me as well – I am really lucky and grateful to have it.’

While her involvement with City of Portsmouth Athletics is now relatively limited, Breen was also quick to acknowledge the part the club has played in her continued success, with coach Leroy Elliott instrumental in her selection for Team GB duty at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

She added: ‘Portsmouth have really helped me.

‘Leroy Elliott is my old coach and I still keep in touch with him – he is still really supportive.

‘I have a lifetime membership now and I am really lucky to have it.

‘It is so nice to know that I have the support from City of Portsmouth because that is where I started at the beginning.

‘They are a great club and are really supportive and will do anything to help you, which is really nice to have that.

‘I wouldn’t have got to 2012 without Leroy, he really helped me – it all happened very quickly!

‘It was quite a shock at the time but I am really glad he was there to help me.’

With Rio fast approaching, though, Breen’s new team-mates at Team GB will be providing support at close quarters as she bids for glory in Brazil.

And it is a close-knit community, not unlike City of Portsmouth, which Breen is only too happy to be a part of as Olympic and Paralympic squads rally to support one another.

She added: ‘I will definitely be watching and supporting Team GB in the Olympics.

‘We all support each other and whenever we are not racing we are always watching others compete on the big TV screen.

‘It is just nice to support each other, really.’

No doubt Breen will also be receiving the support of all who know her at her club back in Portsmouth when she sets out to conquer the world in September.

And one thing is for sure, the humble but talented athlete will be wearing her trademark smile with beaming pride when she takes to the track and field for the exciting challenge.

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