Alexandra Bell ready to justify long-awaited support from British Athletics

Alexandra Bell has certainly waited long enough for this moment, definitely run enough miles, and with great character and bloody-mindedness consistently proved enough people wrong.

But now she has to start proving people right.

For finally, at the age of 28, the middle-distance runner from Leeds has been backed by the full package of funding from UK Sport and British Athletics. The news came this week as a reward for her remarkable run to the Olympic final, when she went from thinking she had messed up the trials to earning a late selection to qualifying through two rounds to make the final eight of the 800m in Tokyo.

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She did all that primarily off her own steam, out of her own pocket. Time and again rejected for funding by the governing body, forced to show them with her performances that she was better than they believed.

On the run: Alexandra Bell of Leeds competing in the Olympic semi-final (Picture: PA)

They have finally backed her by elevating her to the Olympic World Class Programme for 2021/22 alongside Laura Muir, Dina Asher-Smith and 14 more of Britain’s leading athletes.

In an instant Bell’s athletics dynamic has changed from silencing doubters to justifying people’s faith in her.

Having waited so long for the nod of acknowledgment from the powers that be, Bell has no intention of shying away from the challenge.

“I’ve been working towards this for what feels like forever,” says Bell, who has already greeted the news by handing in her notice at the Nike shop in Leeds where she worked part-time.

Alexandra Bell of Team Great Britain reacts after competing in the Women's 800m Final on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. (Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

“It’s sad to leave my job, I was there when the store opened from day one, so I’ve been balancing work and being an athlete for a long time.

“It has worked, to a point, but I’ve taken it as far as I can, now is the time to step up.

“This opportunity to become full-time is where I need to be and what I need to do to take it to the next level.

“I’m done with proving people wrong, I’ve done that for many years. I have made my point.

Leeds 800m runner and Commonwealth Games finalist Alexandra Bell training by the Leeds Liverpool canal at Apperley Bridge. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

“I have in essence let the running do the talking.”

And she can be proud of what she achieved; a Commonwealth Games final, a World Championship semi-final and an Olympic final, all in the last three years.

But British Athletics do not fund their top athletes to be satisfied with making finals.

“I’m not seeing this funding as any added pressure,” Bell tells the YEP. “I’m seeing it as a reward for what I’ve done and a stepping stone.

Alex Bell competing at the Olympics (Picture: PA)

“I can’t now be just satisfied with making teams, I’ve got to be making the teams and getting amongst the medals. That is the next step, without sounding arrogant, that’s what I need to be hitting.

“As difficult as it is to make the 800m teams (up against Olympic silver medallists Muir and Keely Hodgkinson), I need to set my sights and goals higher.”

The funding will be transformational.

It has already prompted the leaving of a part-time job that gave her a mental break from the demands of training and competition.

She can at least stay in Leeds and continue using the resources of the talent hub at Leeds Beckett, something she has already been benefiting from.

“What comes with the Lottery funding is full access to all the medical needs, additional support that me and my coach (Andrew Henderson) may need, as well as the training camps that they provide,” says Bell, who in the past funded herself for much of those services. “I don’t have to worry about who to take with me, who do we have to leave at home, the logistics of doing it on my own.

Olympain Alex Bell is to finally receive Lottery funding. (Picture: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

“It won’t be so much about more minutes running or more minutes training, the benefit will probably come in the recovery time I will now get between sessions.

“Rest day will actually mean a rest day, not doing 15,000, 16,000 steps on the shop floor.

“It has always been in the back of my mind – what can I achieve as a full-time athlete? I’ve never really had the opportunity to do that.

“I’ve got used to in life not expecting things to happen, so that when they do it’s fantastic.

“I was so happy when I found out, I couldn’t believe it.

“With the history I’ve had, I thought I’d had my chance. But it’s fantastic news and the support is invaluable. I can only move on to better things.”

That now is the challenge for the Pudsey and Bramley Athletics Club star – one she is determined to grasp with both hands.