Stuart Weir wrote this fine piece on the 800m title by Shelayna Oksan-Clarke. Shelayna is one of the interesting stories that came out of Glasgow over the weekend of March 1-3, 2019. We thank Stuart Weir for covering the event for us.
Shelayna Oskan-Clarke is the European Indoor Champion in the women’s 800m and the honour could not go to a nicer athlete. Some athletes find success early in their career. Others, like Shelayna, have to graft for it.
When Shelayna came fifth in the 400 metres in the Commonwealth Youth Games in India in 2008, it seemed that her athletics career was up and running. However, she was to have to wait seven years before being selected for her first senior championship. She is very honest about that period: “The transition from Junior level to Senior level seemed to take a while. I went the Youth Commonwealth for the 400 and I think my PB was 54.3 and I don’t think I ever ran another PB. I was more of a strong 400 runner not the fastest and I didn’t really progress”.
The European Indoors has always been an important event in her career. Her first appearance was in 2015. It didn’t go well but that failure proved to be a turning point: “I came back from the Indoors really disappointed – more because of my performance than the time. I let the other girls dictate the race for me in the prelim and the outcome was not good for me. I vowed to myself that from that day I was not going to go into a race and let other people dictate but I was going to go into a race and do what I wanted to do. That was the turning point for me because it was not my performance and it wasn’t my fitness that was letting me down; it was a lot more psychological or just needing to be more confident”.
She was selected for the World Championships in 2015 in Beijing and surprised a lot of people by running 1:58:99 to take fifth place, having run 1:58:86 (a PR) in the semi-final. That performance was a vindication of her self-belief, as she explains: “One of the reasons I stuck at it seven years – quite a long time – was that I knew I had potential to be one of the best in the world. So Beijing 2015 wasn’t a surprise to me. I was more happy and relieved that it had come out but for a lot of people it was as if I had just rocked up! And all the sacrifice – working and travelling to training – all paid off”.
Without being everyone’s favourite, Shelayna won the GB Championship in 2016 and 2017 but she is always looking for more. She told me: “I am very critical of myself, but I have realized that I can be too critical and I am trying to work on my critical voice. I like to analyse my performance – to analyse, reflect on it and then try to move on and input that into the next race”.
In the 2017 European Indoors, she was in the race of the championship, losing by one hundredth of a second to Selina Buchel (Switzerland) in 2:00.38. Then in 2019 she took the gold, taking control of the race early on and powering to victory. Did someone say something about not letting others athletes dominate?
Shelayna is what you might call a converted indoor runner. She told me last year: “Initially I did not like indoor running. I used to find it quite hard but now I think I have established a format that works for me. And it is about executing it on the day. Now I do enjoy it because I’ve had some achievements on the track. I enjoy it a lot more but I still have a lot to learn”.
The evidence suggests that has learned quite a lot!
The Glasgow time – 2:02.58 – was not exciting but who cares as it was a final and all about getting the win. She said: “I loved the feeling of crossing the finish line knowing I’d won gold. I decided beforehand I wanted to go out and focus on getting out in front because I wanted it to be a bit quicker. I would then just work really hard on the third lap. I knew at 150m I just wanted to go, and remembered to pump my arms and turn my legs.
I know I’m strong, but it is just about making the right moves at the right times. It’s hard indoors because if you don’t do that, it’s too late. I wanted to be out there early and hold on for home. I knew I’d have no regrets then”. No regrets indeed and a gold medal to take home.