Sophie McKinna’s £15,000 funding gamble .

McKinna threw 61 centimetres further than any other British woman in 2019


And we’ll throw in medical and training support which could make all the difference in the biggest year of your sporting life.

Deal or no deal?

For most athletes, a place on British Athletics’ world class programme is a no-brainer.

Corporate sponsors are scarce, the threat of injury ever-present and central funding brings some form of stability.

Making it on to the programme can make or break seasons, even careers.

One catch, you would have to dedicate yourself full-time to your Olympic dream.

For Sophie McKinna, that was incompatible with her other life.

“I rang up, said I wanted to thank them for the offer and, given the opportunity, it would be thought about again,” she tells BBC Sport.

“This is not me saying I don’t want to work with British Athletics but at this time it is not right for me and my career.”

Or should that be careers plural?

McKinna, who became the first British woman in 36 years to reach a world shot put final in Doha in October, is also a custody detention officer at Norfolk Police’s Investigation Centre in Great Yarmouth.

Detainees at the facility arrive under suspicion of everything from shoplifting to knife crime and drug dealing. McKinna must care for them and for herself.

“It is a different sort of pressure working in that environment,” the 25-year-old explains.

“Working with the kind of people I do, you realise actually it can be quite dangerous and anything can happen.

“It doesn’t matter who I am or what I have done in my athletics career, people will treat me exactly the same as everybody else who works there.

“I have to have my wits about me the whole time. There can’t be any room for error.”

McKinna’s 11th-place finish in the World Championships and British Athletics’ subsequent funding offer meant she could have left that job behind.

But among the cells is her escape.

“I can go into work, become the work side of my life and not worry about athletics. That personally is very important,” she says.

“I don’t think I could be a full-time athlete, it would drive me insane to be worrying about it all the time.”

McKinna did take the money when British Athletics made a similar offer at the end of 2013. A straightforward proposition in theory was not as simple in reality.

She endured a difficult 2014, failing to get within half a metre of her personal best and splitting with her coach, former Commonwealth Games shot put champion and legendary strongman Geoff Capes.

“You have a regular income every month which is fantastic, but sometimes it is not about the money, you need the support of people within British Athletics,” she says.

“Back then, I didn’t feel I necessarily got that support.”

Unsupported then, she has shown her self-sufficient streak since.

McKinna’s progression – annual personal best
2019 18.61m
2018 17.76m
2017 17.03m
2016 17.14m
2015 16.41m
2014 16.59m
2013 17.12m
2012 16.23m

In May, McKinna threw a personal best 18.23m at the Norfolk Track and Field Championships. The distance was good enough to qualify her for Doha. The venue wasn’t though.

McKinna learned via social media that the absence of photo-finish equipment for track events at Norwich’s Sportspark meant all the meeting’s performances were invalid as qualification marks under British Athletics rules.

No matter. A week later, at British Athletics headquarters in Loughborough, she duly threw 18.04m to book her place regardless.

Her performance in Doha – a personal best 18.61m – means she is all but assured a Team GB place for the Tokyo Olympics. Her 2020 season can be focused around peaking in Japan, rather than chasing numbers and a plane ticket.

An Olympic Games will mean more publicity and a higher profile. For McKinna the attention is part overdue, part unwelcome.

As a young girl she was a 100m sprinter, winning county medals, before switching to shot put.

She was aware of what she was getting into, and out of.

“The throws are under-respected. It is frustrating but you know that you are never going to have the same recognition and you almost resign yourself to that,” she adds.

“Shot putting is not the most glamorous event, that is no secret.

“People’s perceptions of shot putting is all big beefy women, but actually throwing is a very athletic event.

“When you say sport you expect really slight females, but what is appropriate for their event is not appropriate for mine.

“People who don’t understand see these big women and think we don’t train, that we are lazy – I have had all sorts of comments on social media.

“If we can change the perception of women’s sport, that is great.

“I would love one day to take one of those people from Twitter and say ‘step into my world for a day and see what it is like’. I am sure that they would probably have a different opinion by the end.”

McKinna’s world – supported in sport by a raft of local Norfolk sponsors, surrounded at work by the detained and dangerous – is certainly one to turn accepted athlete wisdom on its head.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here