The Big Interview: Stanford's back on form and targeting glory at Tokyo 2020

NON Stanford has already made plenty of headlines in her triathlon career.

Non Stanford.
Non Stanford.

The Leeds star was crowned world champion in 2013 en route to her journey representing Team GB at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

The media then had another stellar story to get their teeth into come the 2016 event in South America when Stanford was pipped to a bronze medal by her former housemate Vicky Holland.

Stanford, then, will be well placed to stand on the other side of the camera after her triathlon career with the 29-year-old eventually hoping to work in the media.

Non Stanford.

After a frustrating 18 months with an Achilles injury, the athlete began to think that a post-triathlon career might be called upon sooner than envisaged.

But the Leeds ace’s first podium finish since 2016 has given her fresh hope for the future with the former world champion hoping to stay on the other side of the lens at least until the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Welsh athlete Stanford’s career hit new heights following her relocation to the British Triathlon base at Leeds at the turn of the decade after winning the ITU World Triathlon Series in London in 2013.

The athlete was then involved in an epic battle with Holland for the bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games but the year ended in frustrating circumstances for Stanford who tore her Achilles.

Vicky Holland celebrates winning the elite women's race during the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Series Event in Leeds.

The road back to full fitness has been a long and hard one, so much so that the former world champion considered applying for a different job but one that would keep her in the public eye.

Without a podium finish since 2016, an honest Stanford was seriously looking into applying for an internship with the BBC earlier on this year only to then burst back to form by finishing third in the ITU World Series leg in Yokohama in May. A media career remains the long-term plan but fuelled by a result that indicated Stanford could yet get back to her brilliant best, those journalism plans can now stay on hold.

Looking back on a frustrating last 18 months, Stanford admitted: “Any elite sport is tough when things aren’t going the way you want them to go and the way you plan.

“This is the way we earn our money so there’s a worry whether what you are doing is sustainable any more. I guess I started to think about what I would have to do with my career post-triathlon and I started to think that maybe after this year I would have to start looking into that a bit more.

Non Stanford.

“There was an internship with the BBC as a sports reporter so I was looking at that. I’ve never shied away from saying that was the avenue that I would like to go down after my time in triathlon.

“I have had quite a bit of experience of commentating and presenting with the BBC and if I can move into that area when I finish than that would be an ideal scenario.

“But generally I am very interested in journalism and media and it would be great to still be involved in the sport in some capacity I guess.

“I want to prepare for when I do retire. I’m 29 now. There’s probably a few more years left in the tank and then I’ll have to come back to reality with a bang and get a normal job.

“I want to be prepared for that and to ready to hit the ground running when that day finally comes around.”

British Triathlon’s loss would be the media’s gain but for now there remains plenty of incentives for Stanford to strive for over the next few years.

Stanford was naturally gutted to miss out on a bronze medal by finishing fourth at the Rio Olympics but the Leeds star hopes she can settle the score in Tokyo where she will also have the chance to compete for an additional medal in the mixed relay event.

Stanford reasoned: “The relay has definitely added a major incentive into qualifying for Tokyo, not that you needed any additional incentive.

“But there’s the fact that there are now two medals to go for and Great Britain are bound to be one of the major contenders for a medal in the mixed relay.

“To be part of that would be really special and to have that opportunity to be a part of that would be brilliant. It adds motivation and it’s definitely very exciting.

“But it’s going to super tough to make the women’s team for Tokyo 2020, you are looking at six or seven girls now that have a real shot at qualifying so I will have to keep my head down and keep cracking away for the next year and qualification for us will start next season.

“Individually, it would also be wonderful to go back and try and make amends for what happened in Rio. My biggest disappointment was not just finishing fourth but feeling like I really underperformed on the day.

“Hopefully with a bit more experience of how to approach an event like the Olympics and how to deal with everything will put me in good stead.”

Stanford will be 31 by the time Tokyo comes knocking and the athlete hopes that her recent problems with her Achilles can now be managed.

The former world champion was forced to miss the recent Leeds leg of the 2018 ITU World Series when she was unwell but it is managing the Achilles that the Welsh athlete knows is key.

Stanford admitted: “I have managed to manage any injury issues that I have got and keep them under control at the minute. And I think to me that is going to be the key, just continuing to manage my Achilles so that it doesn’t get out of hand again. If I can do that then hopefully I can consistently be on or very near the podium. But I think I have got to a point in my career now where I hobble out of bed every morning but I think most people at my age do!”

There is, though, still plenty of triathlon life left in Stanford yet and as well managing injury problems, the Leeds star is also successfully managing life as a homeowner; with a large slice of help from parents Gill and John that is. Stanford bought her first property in Cookridge last year and smiled: “I love owning my first property and I am really enjoying it.

“I am fortunate that I have very handy parents who have come up and made it feel very homely and done all the odd jobs. If it wasn’t for them I would probably still be living out of a box. They turn up at the weekend to help me do a bit of DIY round the house. They pop up from Swansea to help get me a bit more domesticated than I am.”