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Focus on Futures: Dan Clorley

The University of Birmingham, courtesy of its Sport Scholarship Scheme, is playing an integral role in the sporting development of Luton’s Dan Clorley, the English under-23 1500m champion.

While it goes without saying that his studies are well managed, the 19-year-old Business Management undergraduate has the added bonus of being able to call upon Luke Gunn, the Aviva UK 3000m steeplechase champion, for advice and guidance. As the current UK number one, Gunn’s a well placed mentor. Once you throw into the equation that his girlfriend is Hannah England, the national 1500m champion, you’ve got a potentially winning formula for junior apprentice Clorley.

“Every scholar at Birmingham has a mentor,” he explains, having been accepted onto the Sport Scholarship Scheme as a result of his domestic success and international representation. “There’s obviously a bit of luck involved as to who you’re assigned to work with, but as far as possible they try to link up athletes in similar events or event groups, and  I was fortunate to be paired with Luke.”

The University of Birmingham Sport Scholarship Scheme was established back in 1994 with the aim of assisting student athletes to reach their sporting potential while studying at university. Since its inception the programme has supported over 300 individual athletes from over 25 sports and is now regarded one of the best of its kind in the UK, providing a comprehensive package of support and financial benefits to meet the needs of individual athletes. Combined with the support of the UKA Futures Programme, Clorley - who goes into this second year at university in September - is in a secure environment to progress his athletics career in a period which can often be defined as problematic.

“I thought it would be a big change having to look after myself but I settled in really well,” he says of his student life.

While moving from his home town of Luton to Birmingham 12 months ago has brought inevitable change, it has also brought stability for the 2009 European Junior Championships finalist who is now training with a large group of athletes and is benefiting from the focused approach in his higher education years.

“It’s much easier to train with a big bunch of guys,” admits Clorley who has been involved at the Luton club since he was 12. “While we had a great set up at home, there’s now more quality and a greater depth of athletes at a higher standard which is pushing me to work harder. There’s also another guy from my club in Luton so we train together.”

A degree of stability and consistency is also maintained through his continued communication with his Luton coach Tony Simmons who he credits with his achievements to date. “I speak to him (Tony Simmons) all the time,” he says. “He’s flexible and lets me adapt my training to fit in with the group sessions I do up here. It’s got to work both ways; he trusts me, I trust him, and if I put the work in he wants to continue to coach me which is great. He has great knowledge and experience of the sport which he can draw on when setting my sessions and work to do and I have complete faith in what he wants me to do.”

The back-up up he’s offered through the Futures initiative has also reassured him as he works hard to improve his overall performance. “Take my foot problem for example,” he says. “I’ve seen doctors in Birmingham and I haven’t had to wait – I’ve seen specialists right away, it’s definitely that ability to access services quickly that’s beneficial.”

Clorley earned his first major international vest at the European Junior Championships in Novi Sad, Serbia, finishing just outside of the medals in fourth. Taking everything into account - the 40 degree temperatures coupled with a classic example of Championship racing which saw him clock 3:47.88, less than a second outside his lifetime best, for seventh in the heats, before recording 3:54.66 in a cautiously run final – it was a hugely valuable experience.

Having gone into the Trials as the slowest on paper and to finish second was a success in its own right. “Once I got out to Serbia I wanted to get to the final to prove myself,” he explains. “Once you’re in the final anything can happen,” a nd it very nearly did as his team mate Simon Horsfield, the Trials winner, took bronze with a mark just one tenth of a second quicker.

“It was my first race outside of the UK and it was very different. The race was very physical with lots of pushing and shoving which made it very difficult to maintain a good position, and I found myself almost last with 200m to go and in the end I’d just left too much work to do to get a medal.”

So what does the future hold?

“The European Under-23 Championships is definitely my main aim for next season,” says Clorley who has a current 1500m best of 3:43.53. As he found out in Serbia, times mean little on paper, but going into a Championship year, knowing that the European Under-23 title was won in 3:51.19 a year ago must be a confidence boost as he heads towards the end of the summer and into the cross country season and a concentrated period of winter training. “Hopefully I can get a good winter under my belt,” he continues. “I intend to run higher mileage and incorporate weight training into my regime and reach the standard I think I am capable of next summer. Obviously the performances at the Europeans are inspiring but we have always known that we can compete on that stage; it’s at world and Olympic level that we need to become more competitive.”

“At the moment I’m still not happy with my 800m time,” he adds of his 1:53.41 best achieved in 2010. “My PB doesn’t really translate from 800m to 1500m. I want to take around three seconds off it.”

“I’ve always assumed I’d be a 1500m/5000m athlete long term rather than an 800m/1500m, but I’ll run the shorter races while I can!”

It’s a valid point, but with a 3000m best of 8:07.47 set in tough company in the McCain Loughborough International back in May, a mark which ranked him second over the distance in the age group in 2010, it’s would be a sensible choice rather than one of speculation.

His endurance capacity will also be tested this winter if he chooses to compete in cross country, terrain over which he’s proved himself to be highly accomplished with Southern Cross Country Championships and British Universities (BUCS) Cross Country Championships victories earlier this year.

“My winter  was going well until I got mumps the week before the National Cross,” he laughs, “I’d have liked to think I’d have challenged for a medal there, but I do consider myself more of a track athlete.”

Longer term it seems inevitable that he’ll move up the distances, especially when he admits he’s considering altitude training, an option made available to him through his place on the Futures Programme. “I’d really like to have that experience, it’s something new and it’s a good time to try it, although I’m not sure this autumn is good timing linked because of my end of season break,” he says. “I don’t want to go up there to get fit – I want to have a good level of fitness to build on when I’m there.”

There is also the small matter of his mentor, Gunn, and the positive influence he exudes. With almost identical track bests over 800m and 1500m to Clorley, Gunn settled into the 3000m SC when he represented GB & NI at the European Under-23 Championships in Germany five years ago. Is that an event he’d like to try? “3000m/5000m, yes, steeplechase, hopefully never”, he admits.  And he’s probably right; a successful career is build around avoiding and overcoming unexpected barriers, not clearing those we choose to put in our way.

The UKA Futures Programme underpins the World Class Performance Programme (WCPP) and was borne out of the restructure of UKA’s WCPP and the drive towards more targeted support for athletes and their coaches.

The Programme targets young athletes with the potential to deliver global medals for Britain in the future, typically in the 17 to 20 age range but with flexibility towards athletes who have come late to the sport, are in late developing events of are deemed an exceptional case for support.

Athletes and their coaches will be supported in their individual development plans allowing for more flexibility and individual discretion around distribution of resources. 42 coach-athlete pairs have been included in the 2010 Futures Programme.

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