Athletics: Ashleigh Nelson doubles up with sprint title success
SPRINTER Ashleigh Nelson is taking her marks for the new season with a fresh sense of optimism.
The 22-year-old, from Birches Head, made a stunning return from an injury-plagued 2011 by winning the senior and under-23s 100m UK titles last summer.
"I had six months out with hamstring problems and I didn't get on the track until March," she said.
"I was starting my build-up so late, but my coach Michael Afilaka said I could do it and I trusted him. He was right."
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Nelson, a photography student at Middlesex University, proved just that when she won the British under-23s 100m title for the second time in June.
Her time of 11.46secs blew away the opposition at Bedford and set her up for the Aviva Olympic Trials, which doubled up as the UK Championship, in Birmingham just a week later.
And she produced a storming run of 11.50secs to take the title just ahead Anyika Onuora.
"I got off to a strong start, but I honestly didn't know if I had won when I crossed the line," said Nelson.
"It was quite an emotional experience, so I was so pleased to come through it with the title."
Her fortunes, however, were about to take a turn for the worse and, after a major disappointment at the European Championships in Helsinki, she missed out on her dream of a place at the London Olympics by a fraction of a second.
"I got to the semi-finals, which was quite an achievement I guess," she said.
"But it was also disappointing because I wanted to go on.
"I didn't run as quick as I would have liked, but there was just nothing left in the tank."
The former Birches Head High student finished sixth in the end – and missed out on a relay appearance in London too when the British team was disqualified at the Euros.
"One of the girls went out of her lane at one point, but it happens," she said. "I would have loved to have been a double Olympian at 21, but it wasn't meant to be."
So Nelson is preparing for another season injury-free at last and with her sights set on a major breakthrough.
The European under-23 trials take place in Finland in July and there's the World Championships, in Moscow in August, on the horizon.
"I'm really looking forward to this year," she said. "I'm off to Florida for a training camp next month and I'll come back ready for the challenges ahead."
Nelson, however, is resigned to funding the new campaign herself.
She's having to dip into her student loan after missing out on sponsorship from UK Athletics.
"I was disappointed, but not surprised," she said.
"I'll just get my head down, work hard and keep believing."
Nelson has been nominated in the Senior Individual category of The Sentinel/City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality of the Year awards by her brother Alex, a former Great Britain sprint star.
"To win her first senior title was massive for Ashleigh," he said.
"She was so close to a place at the Olympics too.
"If she had not had all those injuries, I'm sure she would have been there.
"But she's only 22, she's got time on her side."