Cutts raising the bar and finally receiving his overdue recognition

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Two weeks ago, a young man from an old mining community in Barnsley, who has had enough knockbacks in his career to last a lifetime, soared higher than he had ever done before to break the 12-year-old British pole vault record.

It was a wonderful moment for Luke Cutts as the 25-year-old, who has spent much of his 15-year pole vault career in the shadows, broke through the glass ceiling.

Never one to seek the spotlight, he may now have to get used to increased interest in his exploits following his record-breaking vault of 5.83m in an indoor meet in France last month – a leap that shattered his own personal best by 21cms and Nick Buckfield’s national mark by two.

At the Sainsbury’s British Athletics Championships at Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport tomorrow, Cutts is being billed as one of the headline acts.

It is uncharted territory for a young man from a working-class town, but in the absence of such as Jessica Ennis-Hill or Mo Farah this weekend, people are scouring the landscape for a rising star.

His position of prominence is long overdue.

He first took up pole vault aged 10 under the watchful gaze of Trevor Fox, one of those selfless people of athletics who turns out every night to give young children a chance and an outlet.

From the Dearneside High School (now advanced learning centre) he ran an athletics club that for the last two decades has continually raised the bar and competed with better-resourced clubs across the country.

A number of pupils have won national accolades, from Rhys Searles a decade ago to Abigail Roberts and Nicholas Cole, two talented teenagers who will this weekend attempt to leap 4m and 5m, respectively, in Sheffield.

The one constant has been Cutts, the cream of the crop in his teenage years who never gave up when success proved nowhere near as easy to come by in the senior ranks.

“It has been tough for him,” says Fox, his coach of 15 years.

“There have been a lot of disappointments with not being selected, and decisions made in the athletics set-up that have denied him.

“Luke has had flat spells and there’s been various reasons for that.

“When he had to work night shifts a few years ago, his training and performances naturally suffered, but he was still determined to carry on. He’s persevered with it and he’s been strong enough to keep coming back.”

Cutts’s unwavering perseverance was finally given a helping hand last summer.

Initially, it had begun as another setback. Cutts beat Lewis to the UK outdoor title at the world championship trials in Birmingham, but the selectors took the more experienced man to Moscow.

“It was a massive disappointment,” says Fox. “We appealed against it but nothing came of that. We just couldn’t understand what more he could have done.

“Luke was on an upward curve at the time, he was jumping well and training well. There was no reason why they couldn’t have taken him.”

Salt was rubbed into the wound when Lewis struggled in Moscow, failing on all three attempts at the routine height of 5.40m.

Lewis has been on a sabbatical since, leaving the way clear for Cutts to finally have his time.

How he has taken that chance. His leap in Rouen, France, is the second highest recorded this year, with only Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie bettering the mark. It also beat Lewis’s best of 5.82m.

“When Luke broke that record he did it on a pole he hadn’t jumped on before,” adds Fox.

“He packed a carbon-fibre pole as well as a glass-fibre pole and he competed on the carbon fibre one in case the glass one broke.

“He’d never competed on it before and went and broke the record. To get a record on a pole he had never used before – that shows the quality of the lad.

“It was a brilliant achievement when you consider the standard of opposition he was against; Olympic champion Lavillenie and a really strong home contingent.

“That standard of competition he’s been vaulting against has really helped Luke develop.

“To be honest, the jump didn’t take either of us by surprise, even though it’s been a long time coming. He’s had a jump like that in him for years.”

Cutts’s leap in Rouen was by no means a flash in the pan. His career has been on an upward trajectory for the last 12 months, something that was finally acknowledged by UK Sport when they awarded him Lottery funding in December.

Even then, they only classed him as podium potential, a level not usually given to an athlete as seasoned as Cutts.

But Cutts has got used to being overlooked and under-estimated.

On home soil tomorrow – the EIS is his training base three sessions a week – this late blossomer has the chance to underline his growing status and win the indoor title that has eluded him for so long, and confirm his place in the squad for the world indoor championships in Poland next month.

Four times he has been runner-up at this event, on each occasion to Lewis, who is absent this weekend but seemingly no barrier to Cutts any longer in any case.

“Now it’s starting to come good for him he’s not the type who will be fazed by it,” says Fox of his long-time student. “We’ve been discussing various things that might increase now, like media commitments, and I’m confident he’s ready for it all.”

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk

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