Weekend Interview: Anger at being overlooked by selectors fuelling Alexandra Bell’s Olympic ambitions

Ready to prove her winning mentality: Leeds 800m runner Alexandra Bell training by the Leeds-Liverpool canal at Apperley Bridge in preparation for a big year in 2019. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Ready to prove her winning mentality: Leeds 800m runner Alexandra Bell training by the Leeds-Liverpool canal at Apperley Bridge in preparation for a big year in 2019. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
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LEEDS athlete Alexandra Bell did not take her omission from the 2018 Team GB European Championship squad lying down.

A detailed complaint on Twitter was followed by an unsuccessful formal appeal and a lasting feeling that the Pudsey and Bramley 800m runner will no longer be able to look selectors in the eye.

Doing the hard yards: Leeds 800m runner and Commonwealth Games finalist Alexandra Bell training by the Leeds-Liverpool canal at Apperley Bridge.  Picture: Tony Johnson

Doing the hard yards: Leeds 800m runner and Commonwealth Games finalist Alexandra Bell training by the Leeds-Liverpool canal at Apperley Bridge. Picture: Tony Johnson

Yet with next year’s World Championships looming, Bell aims to make her 2019 selection impossible to avoid by winning the British Championships en route to the World Championships and ultimately the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Apperley Bridge-based Bell looked destined to finally fulfil her sporting ambition of donning a GB vest on the track earlier this year following two stellar months to start 2018.

With August’s European Championships looming, a fifth-placed finish representing England at April’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast of Australia was followed by a sub-two-minute time in a BMC Grand Prix race in Watford.

With three spots at the Europeans on offer, though the third being a discretionary one, all that remained was to seal the deal by finishing first or second or potentially even third in July’s trials – the British Championships.

I thought ‘well, which one of them has got a winning mentality then?’ I feel they have deprived me, I know I could have got a medal and it gets to me every time. I just don’t understand.

Alexandra Bell

The late appearance of Laura Muir, a scramble to the line for the placings and an admittedly below-par performance led to Bell finishing fourth and being overlooked for selection, despite her obvious credentials as proved at both the Commonwealth Games and when dipping under two minutes.

Team GB instead opted to take Lynsey Sharp – fifth in the trials – as well as Shelayna Oskan-Clarke and Adelle Tracey – second and third in the trials, respectively – despite Bell being quicker than the latter two this year.

Muir – who won the 800m trial – opted only to run in the 1500m but even that failed to pave the way for Bell to board the plane on Berlin. Without her, Sharp, Oskan-Clarke and Tracey failed to bring home a medal and that, says Bell has already proved selectors wrong.

Fuelled and motivated by her exclusion, Bell is looking forward to again proving those selectors wrong.

England's Alexandra Bell: After reaching the 800m final at the Commonwealth Games.

England's Alexandra Bell: After reaching the 800m final at the Commonwealth Games.

Reflecting on not being selected for the European Championships, Bell told The Yorkshire Post: “I was just angry.

“Obviously, I have only got myself to blame because if you don’t want to be in that situation then all you have got to do is come top two. It made me think I never want to be in that position again.

“But then I kind of thought who are these people telling me what I can and can’t do? I don’t understand how someone in that role can tell me if I’ve got a ‘winning mentality’ or not which is what I was told or if I’m going to make it in the sport. You don’t know me, you don’t know what I’m thinking.

“I just couldn’t get my head around it and to this day I still can’t. I can’t look any of them in the eyes – not properly.

“I watched the Games and I laughed because none of them medalled.

“I thought ‘well, which one of them has got a winning mentality then?’ I feel they have deprived me, I know I could have got a medal and it gets to me every time. I just don’t understand.”

Former Valley View Primary and Priesthorpe High School pupil Bell can at least reflect on 2018 as the year in which she was the highest-placed British athlete at the Commonwealth Games.

“Looking at some of the girls on the list in the Commonwealths I thought ‘not a chance’,” she said.

“I had Caster Semenya (South Africa’s 2016 Olympic gold medallist) in my heat and I just had the best run of my life. I almost PBd (personal best) in my first race of the season and it had taken me all year the year before to do that.

“Then in the final when I finished fifth, I had a different mentality. I just thought anything can happen – you are in the final, you have made it this far not knowing what can happen, just enjoy your time here with nothing to lose.”

The sub two-minute run followed but there was ultimately no place on the plane to the Europeans for an athlete so determined to succeed on the track that her longer-term professional dreams have been placed on hold.

Having been a huge fan of ITV show ‘The Bill’ as a youngster, Bell had been working for the local police force as an overnight special and the athlete who has a Leeds Beckett University degree in human geography still aims to be a policewoman in the long term.

There is, though, still the need to make ends meet with Bell working in a retail shop during the day with recent progress on the track achieved without crucial funding, which the runner says in itself has led to herbeing overlooked.

Bell explained: “People who are on funding have got the priority to go and get selected to prove to UK Sport and to UK Lottery that they are funding the right people.

“Imagine how wrong they would look if they took someone not funded with someone funded sat at home.

“I was on funding for one year from 2016 to 2017 on the back of the 2016 season and I didn’t show signs of progression apparently while I was on it, bearing in mind I was in the middle of moving coaches that year as well to Andrew Henderson at Leeds Beckett.

“I just feel like I wasn’t given a chance.”

Bell, though, is now planning on leaving nothing to chance next year with her aims clear ahead of the summer trials and thereafter 2020 – the year in which the 800m runner and fiancé Joshua Norman will get married.

In the meantime, Bell will be pulling on a Team GB vest not on track but through the fields next month for the Great Stirling Cross Country in which the Leeds runner will compete in the mixed-relay team anchored by Muir.

“I’m really looking forward to that but, of course, I am already thinking that I need to win those British trials in August,” admitted Bell.

“That’s the main aim and then from there I want to do whatever I possibly can at the worlds. I want to do as best as I can.

“I want to get a GB vest on the track. Since I was like 18 or 19, all I have ever wanted is a GB vest on the track and I’ve not got one.

“I know it’s going to be the sweetest moment when I finally do and I just cannot wait. Tokyo 2020 is then the main aim. Above all this, year on year, that is the peak and that is the one that we all want.

“I have got two years to go and the way I keep progressing I think I will be there and I want to be there, end of story.”