'I'm in great shape' - McKinna ready to make mark at Tokyo Olympics
- Credit: PA
When Sophie McKinna steps into the shot put circle in Tokyo it will be the fulfilment of a dream that started the moment she picked up the 4kg ball 15 years ago with Great Yarmouth & District Athletic Club.
Sophie might be about to bounce into the national consciousness as an Olympian over the next couple of weeks but it has taken the 26-year-old a lot of blood, sweat, and all too many tears just to make it to Japan.
An Olympics is the ultimate for any athlete and whilst attaining that place might be the pinnacle for your average person, it’s different for those with an Olympian’s mindset.
Throw adversity at them and they find a way just as Sophie did last year when Covid restrictions meant she couldn’t train at the Wellesley or the UEA Sportspark to hone her shot put technique.
A bit of DIY later and she had her own shot put sector in her back garden and a gym in her garage, never letting that goal of becoming an Olympian slip from her mind.
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Fortunately, restrictions were eased this year enough for her to get back out on the field but a broken elbow sustained “lifting or throwing” towards the end of February turned her world upside down.
“Not ideal” was Sophie’s summary but she insists she has come back fitter and stronger, which was demonstrated in her performance at the British Championships when she won with a throw of 18.28m.
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She’s edging ever closer to that personal best of 18.61m she threw in qualifying for the final of the World Championships in Doha in 2019 – the first time any British woman had qualified for the final in 36 years.
If she can surpass that mark at the Olympics then it would be a huge step towards achieving her goal out in the Far East.
“I just want to perform to the best of my ability – I'd love to get a spot in the final,” she said ahead of flying out along with the rest of the GB squad last Thursday. “That's going to be very hard because obviously people come to perform. If I can repeat what I did at the World Championships then that would be my ideal target.”
McKinna, who is the granddaughter of former Norwich City manager Dave Stringer, is in a class of her own at a national level. Amelia Strickler was second at the British Championships, more than a metre back but Sophie has her eyes beyond these shores.
“To win another British title was absolutely fantastic,” she added. “To be the best in Britain is the starting point and then I can hopefully build on from there and progress internationally.
“I’m in great shape and I’m performing really well and training well. Hopefully I can get out to Tokyo and produce the best result possible.
“It’s been a really exciting time but the main thing has been to continue with my training and make sure I can go to the Olympics in the best competitive state that I can.”
Sophie has made steady progress in her development since 2018 and a fifth-place finish at the Commonwealth Games. Going over and above the 18m mark is now a common occurrence and she believes there’s more to come as she gets older.
“In a lot of throwing events I think that age plays a big part in it,” said Sophie, who decided to take up funding from Team GB after initially rejecting the £15,000 offered to enable her to continue working as a custody detention officer. “I’m now reaching a point where I’m strong and I understand my event a lot better. That’s given me an advantage – we've spent a lot of years breaking my technique down and then building it back up.
“I’m now in a position where I can perform at a high level consistently.”
McKinna admits her Olympic experience won’t be how she pictured it with fans unable to attend the Games. However, she doesn’t plan on this being the only Olympics of her career.
“Obviously I won’t have my family and friends coming out to support me and that’s disappointing,” she said. “Ultimately though my goal was to compete at an Olympic Games and that’s the opportunity that I’m now going to get.
“It won’t be the same but obviously it will be a very good experience for me before Paris 2024. Hopefully I can go and perform there and go and have a more normal Olympic experience.”
Sophie’s qualification event takes place on Friday, July 30 at around 11am UK time and she knows she can count on a lot of support from Norfolk.
“It’s been a lot of work in the making – I've been doing this for 15 years now,” she said. “I’ve had so much support from people in Norfolk and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s always been a dream for me and not many people can say they achieved their dreams. I’ve been lucky enough to do that.”