Vernon eager to live out Olympic dream
The 2016 Rio Olympic Games opening ceremony gets under way at midnight on Friday and runs into the early hours of Saturday morning.
Stubbington runner Andy Vernon is part of Team GB’s contigent in Brazil and ahead of the greatest sporting event on earth, he caught up with sports writer Jeff Marshman...
It’s a cliché and Andy Vernon knows it but he can be forgiven for saying it.
His dream of becoming an Olympian is about to come true.
The 30-year-old long-distance man is Brazil bound and ready to run the race of his life in Rio.
That’s after securing his place on Team GB’s roster in the 10,000m last month, having missed out on 5,000m qualification.
And having worked for more than half of his life to get there, the former Stubbington Green runner is determined to do himself justice on the greatest stage of all.
He said: ‘To have been selected is a relief more than anything because your aim is to get there and it is not just a case of working hard this last month or so – it’s years of work.
‘Without being clichéd you dream of going to the Olympics and becoming an Olympian.
‘The job is not done yet but it is a relief to have been named in the team and know that first obstacle is done.
‘The second part is to go out there and run the race.
‘I would like to finish inside the top eight but I want to just go out there and do myself justice at the same time – whatever that is.
‘At the moment going in to the race, I am ranked 16th-18th or something like that.
‘But obviously I ran my time last year and other people have done theirs at other times.
‘If you were to look at the Olympic rankings and decide where you would finish there would be no point in being there.
‘Races aren’t run on paper, though, and people don’t come into it in the same form – some can lose their heads.
‘I know I will be working right to the line to give myself the best possible chance of success.
‘I can’t help what I have gone through in the nine or 10 months – it certainly hasn’t been the best preparation but I will go with the hand I have been dealt.’
Put simply, Vernon’s preparation has been less than ideal.
Indeed, his assertion that selection was ‘a relief’ is not one of modesty.
There were genuine concerns that an injury-hit year could deprive The News’ Sports Awards sportsman of the year of 2013 and 2014 of his Rio dream.
An untimely inflammation of the foot meant his 5,000m hopes fell by the wayside and the man who claimed double-medal glory in the 2014 European Championships 5,000m and 10,000m was left with a make-or-break decision at the same event last month.
Thankfully for Vernon, a tactical withdrawal in the 10,000m race paid dividends.
He explained: ‘There certainly was a fear that the call wouldn’t come my way.
‘I wasn’t in good shape at the trials and my chances of automatic qualification came and went.
‘I didn’t have the strength in my legs.
‘All I could do was hope to be selected on a discretionary place.
‘It was a big decision to not run the 10,000m race at the European Championships because obviously I was a previous medallist.
‘By then I was in decent shape as well and looking at the line-up I was thinking I could have had either a great or mediocre race and finished fourth.
‘There were three good guys in there and then me so I knew that as long as I was there at the end I would have a sniff at a medal.
‘Actually watching the race I was thinking: “Oh god” – it wasn’t that impressive at all!
‘But I knew I was in with a shout of selection for Rio having spoken with the performance director.
‘He said that if things didn’t change between then and the selection date, which was only four or five days later, then I was in a strong position for selection.
‘That basically meant the other Brit who did run in the race, Dewi Griffiths, had to run the Olympic qualifying time to take the place.
‘As long as he didn’t run under 28 minutes then I was in a strong position for selection, although GB couldn’t say “yes” we are going to select you.
‘So, in a nutshell, I could go out there and race badly or have to pull out because of my foot and that would be negative going into the selection meeting.
‘But by choosing not too race I was informed that was a sensible decision which would not go against me,
‘It almost seemed like by racing I could have won a medal, although there was no guarantee, but I could have also put myself into a worse situation.
‘And I thought that for the European Championship – something I have already won two medals in – I could not risk the Olympic Games.
‘I could not live with myself if it made my foot even worse or unrecoverable.’
Thankfully for Vernon his calculated decision proved correct as Griffiths missed out on the qualifying time to ensure the former joined Mo Farah and Ross Millington on the 10,000m roster.
And the Pompey fan, who is now completely pain free after a training camp in France, believes it is actually a blessing to have missed out on the 5,000m.
Vernon said: ‘The foot is 100 per cent – I am in no pain while I am running.
‘I have done some good training over in Font Remou in France at altitude on the hills and also some good track workouts, breathing in the skinny air.
‘I am happy with where I am at and even if I had qualified for both I think I would have just stuck with the 10k anyway.
‘That’s the one I generally race better over.
‘Another reason for saying that is that I wouldn’t want to risk my foot doing multiple races within a short period of time.
‘I don’t want to be greedy either – you do one race and you are an Olympian.
‘You don’t need to do two or three races to prove it!
‘Running two or three races at European level is a lot different to running three races at world level – it is a different game altogether.’
For Vernon, competing at an Olympic Games is a challenge he relishes.
And when his race is run, the athelete is keen soak up the carnival atmosphere, within reason.
He said: ‘I am trying not to think too much about the party scene at the moment!
‘I am obviously keeping my mind focused on the race.
‘I get my race done pretty quickly, I compete on the second night so I am done fairly soon and then I can kind of relax.
‘I will still have to train while I’m out there, I can’t just go on a 10-day bender!
‘My wife is going out and my dad is coming out as well so I will be able to do some touring with them during the day.
‘I am not going to be so strict on my training but I will still need to keep some in for the remainder of the last week or so after my race.’
While Vernon is an individual competitor, there are many within his extensive support network who he owes a debt of gratitude.
And ahead of his career high, he is keen to pay tribute to those who have helped him get to where he is.
Vernon added: ‘It’s a journey that no sportsman/woman does alone so I would like to thank those who have helped me get here.
‘That includes my coach Nic Bideau and my wife Tasha who I couldn’t have done this without.
‘Also thanks to St Mary’s University, Twickenham and London Marathon for their continued support to provide world-class training facilities and also my flight to Rio.
‘There are countless others as well but they know who they are.
‘To all who have supported and helped me I am very grateful.’