Olympic shot putter discusses her journey through athletics, the support network which has helped her to reach the top level and why she gives back whenever she can
It’s safe to say 2022 represents a new beginning for Sophie McKinna. Last year was tumultuous for the double British shot put champion after she broke her elbow back in March and then a few months later had to isolate in Tokyo ahead of the Olympics after being pinged, a journey to Japan that she describes as an “emotional rollercoaster”.
McKinna claims she’s now in the best shape of her life and finished eighth in the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade with 18.62m last month. In the background, she is supported by her club Great Yarmouth & District AC and tells AW how they have always been there for her since the age of 11, how they reacted to her making the Olympics and how she gives back to the club now.
The beginning of a journey
My mum entered me into a competition without my knowledge as I was a sprinter to begin with but she thought I’d be good at the throws. I didn’t want to do it as I was a teenager but she said I had to do it as she paid for it.
I took part in the event I came second at the indoor county championships, as it was at the time. People then told me I had a natural ability for the shot put and I started working on it. The rest is history and I’ve progressed through the championships and the ranks and been lucky enough to be in a position where I’m leading in the UK and now breaking through in the world ranks.
The club has always been extremely supportive of me since I joined at the age of 11 and they’ve pushed me. My mum told me that the head coach said that if anyone was going to make it from the club then it would be me.
They had obviously seen something in me that they hadn’t necessarily seen before in Great Yarmouth because it’s not a huge place. The club has always watched me in competition, helped me financially to get to events and I’ve got lifelong friends from the club who’ve been a huge part of my life.
A change in coaching and technique
I was coached by Geoff Capes at first and, from 2014, Mike Winch took over the reins. When Geoff coached me I was strong and didn’t have the technical ability I have now. Mike is very good at technique and he got me to detrain to focus on the technique that I have now, so I had to cut back a lot on my strength and become more athletic which is why I’m so much lighter than I was last year. That’s enabled me to get into better positions and throw further. The support network I have around me is fantastic and that includes my Grandad, who collects my shots every session and stands in god knows what type of weather.
You’re always looking at people who throw further than you and to take parts out of their training but ultimately I throw the way I throw. I can’t be coached like anybody else and we’ve all get very different body shapes. The most important thing is to surround myself in an environment with elite athletes.
The reaction to making the Olympics
The club went mad. It was the first time ever anyone [from the club] has done something like that and qualified for the Olympics. They made a big banner that went up in the clubhouse and they were so excited that someone who worked all the way through the club had got to achieve the pinnacle of our sport, other than actually winning an Olympic medal. The kids were really excited and after getting back from Tokyo the reception that I got was amazing.
Giving back to the club and training
I still compete for Great Yarmouth and every opportunity that I’ve got I’ll support them. I’ll do the East Anglian leagues if they need an extra person. I’ll do the discus, hammer throw and even the 800m if I have to!
I think my club gave a lot to me. They’ve supported me all the way through my career so it’s massively important to give back and show young people what can be achieved. It doesn’t matter what facilities you’ve got – as long as you’re determined and work hard enough you can achieve anything. When I went back to the club championships I did the long jump, which was quite entertaining!
I’m still down at the club on a Tuesday and Thursday night coaching now so my relationship with the athletics club in Great Yarmouth will be forever. I train down there Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the circle and you have the same people walking their dogs around the track and they always stop and ask how it’s going on.
That’s just the community and then you have the club nights. I get a lot of stick for sprinting because I’m a shot putter but it’s a great environment to be in and I want to show these kids that just because I’ve been to the Olympics I’m not above training on a club night.
» This article first appeared in the February issue of AW magazine, which you can buy here