Tokyo 2020: Olympic debutante Alexandra Bell rewarded for tireless perseverance

Alexandra Bell’s journey to her Olympic debut in the early hours of Friday morning is all about one thing – perseverance.

Olympic Games debutante Alexandra Bell, pictured pounding the Leeds-Liverpool Canal towpath. Picture: Tony Johnson/JPIMedia.
Olympic Games debutante Alexandra Bell, pictured pounding the Leeds-Liverpool Canal towpath. Picture: Tony Johnson/JPIMedia.

The 800m runner from Pudsey contests the Olympic heats at 2.25am on Friday (10.25am Tokyo time), knowing this is the moment she has been building her entire career towards.

Time and again it is a career that has been hit by setbacks and adversity, not least a month ago when she was overlooked for selection for the British athletics team bound for Tokyo.

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“Pretty broken right now,” she wrote on social media. “Today hurts, a lot, but I know all too well that day by day, piece by piece I’ll get put back together again.

Leeds athlete Alexandra Belll, pictured at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, will make her Great Britain Olympic debut in Tokyo. Picture: AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein.

“This year we have made changes. BIG changes, attacking the season with the commitment to leave no stone left unturned.

“I am in the shape of my life, having run a PB of 1.58.5 and placing the highest I have ever placed in the World Ranking system.”

It is the story of her career – almost there, but just missing out.

But this time there was a positive twist...

Pudsey and Bramley athletics club's Great Britain Olympic debutante, Alexandra Belll. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Ten days later, and just three weeks from the Games, Bell was thrown a lifeline when Scotland’s Laura Muir – who qualified ahead of her – pulled out of the 800m to focus on the 1,500m in Tokyo.

Bell suddenly became the 376th and final athlete to be named in the Team GB squad for the Olympics.

“Dreams can come true,” she tweeted. “#backyourself #persevere.”

And so Bell, 28, who runs for Pudsey and Bramley Athletics Club, will race in Tokyo.

And she does so in the form of her life having lowered her personal best from 1:58.52 to 1:58.34 at a meeting in Manchester on July 13, making her the ninth-fastest Briton of all time over two laps of the track.

So whether she makes it through to Saturday’s semi-final at the more respectable time of 12.50pm in the UK, Bell has certainly earned the right to call herself an Olympian the hard way.

And every step of the way, the club where she began and still competes today, Pudsey and Bramley, have been with her.

“We, as a club, are so proud of her,” says Joanne Boocock, the junior development co-ordinator at Pudsey and Bramley.

“She’s a fantastic role model for the kids.

“She still comes down and gives advice and attends presentation evenings. Everyone looks up to her.

“She has been knocked back for these big events on so many occasions but she doesn’t give up. That to me is an attribute that is priceless – not letting go of her dreams and keeping going because eventually they do come true, as she has proven.

“But she works so hard and is so deserving of this.”

Close family and friends will have no doubt been up through the night cheering on Bell, a world championship semi-finalist two years ago.

If she qualifies for the semi-final, expect the entirety of the Pudsey and Bramley Athletics Club’s junior and senior teams to be tuning in on Saturday afternoon to follow her.

“The kids are in absolute awe of her,” Boocock said.

Leeds Beckett University student Keely Hodgkinson is also in the 800m heats. Hodgkinson, 19, won gold at the European Indoors in March.

“I didn’t expect what’s happened to happen this year, it’s definitely been fun,” she said. “I hope that I can keep it up.”