By Tom Walker | Head of Sport
Welsh runner Melissa Courtney-Bryant finished third in the Women’s 1500m at the Diamond League series in Stockholm this past weekend, setting a 1500m personal best of 4:01.81, the fastest by a Welsh female athlete for 17 years. This comes after winning the 1500m race at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland just two weeks before.
She has been rising through the ranks of Welsh athletics and is now demonstrating her talent on the top stage. We spoke to Courtney-Bryant who talked us through her career so far, and her future aspirations.
Born in Dorset, her passion for running came as early as 11-years-old: “I got hooked on it. I did a few other sports like swimming at a young age but found immediately I was a lot better at long distance running, which eventually evolved into the 1500ms which I did all throughout school”.
When asked what it was about running that appealed to her, Courtney-Bryant explained: “The social element was great, it is very sociable for an individual sport. I had a great group of friends at the club throughout those teenage years, which stopped me dropping out at the stage where most kids decide it is not for them”
After competing in running events throughout her teens, she attended Brunel University, London where she studied Sports Psychology, whilst also continuing to fulfil her aspirations as an athlete.
“I absolutely loved it (University). I studied a three-year undergraduate course, as well as a part time masters to balance alongside running. University was where I met my Husband, who is also an athlete which really helped. I got to see all the other student athletes’ determination and hard work that they were putting in.”
“It made me want to work a lot harder if I wanted to pursue this (running) as a career, and it resulted in a lot of big improvements and eventually got me to the level where I knew I could make a GB team.”
She got Involved with the Welsh Athletics system at 18 after much debate on which country she should represent. “My mum was born in Caerphilly as well as the rest of that side of the family. I had always thought of representing Wales and when I spoke to my mum about it she made it clear she would be more proud of me representing Wales than Great Britain.
“Everyone at Welsh Athletics was so friendly and wanted to do everything they could to help me” Courtney-Bryant explained, “and the team is great and everyone is so supportive, going away with them is always the best experience.
2018 was very much a breakout year for Courtney-Bryant, coming fifth in the European Championships 5000m, and in her first Commonwealth Games appearance, finishing 3rd in the 1500m race. She described getting on the podium in the 1500m as a “bit of a shock” because she and her trainer, Rob Denmark, had been so focused on the 5000m heading into the games.
“The lap of honour was incredible.” Courtney-Bryant said, “There were so many Welsh flags which I did not expect. It took so long to get around the track because I was stopping for pictures and interviews. However, I am so glad I did because I really wanted to take in the moment because you never know if it will happen again”.
After another Bronze medal in the 3000m at the European Indoor Championships, and a Silver in the British Indoor Championships 3000m in 2019, Courtney-Bryant came into 2020 ready to take the next step.
The 26-year-old began the year with a brilliant victory at the British Indoor Championships, and at that point had a clear focus: “My plan was to get back to training and prepare for the Europeans and Olympics, but obviously very shortly after it (the coronavirus pandemic) all started to unravel which put a halt to all of that.”
“However, I knew I could not waste my time and needed to make the most of it. I made it my goal to make sure instead of just preparing to make the finals next year, I was a competitor for a medal in them.”
Although challenging, lockdown proved to be productive for her and her fellow athlete husband, Ashley Bryant: “We turned our shed into a homemade gym and my dad drove up with a treadmill for us to use. It was really good that we had each other because we would often go out together to a local park and do our sessions there, it made the sessions fun which was important.”
The two races since returning to competitive sport have been extremely successful for the Welsh woman, getting on the podium in both the Paavo Nurmi Games and the Diamond League series in Stockholm.
It was the Swedish capital where she would go to make Welsh history, recording the best 1500m time by a Welsh athlete for almost 17 years. But does she believe she could go on to break that record set by Hayley Tullett?
“That would be unbelievable, I have always dreamt of running sub-four minutes. Only 5 British women have ever done it. It would be an incredible achievement. She set that record (3.59) whilst winning a bronze medal at a World Championship, so If I could go on and do what she did and win a global record that would be incredible.”
The hard work will continue for Courtney-Bryant throughout this year and into 2021: “I still have three or four more races this year, including another trip to Sweden this weekend.
“I am hoping to do another 5000m this year too and try and set a PB on that as well. Then preparations shift to Tokyo.”
Despite the mass disturbances this year, Melissa Courtney-Bryant has ensured the time has not gone to waste, and even thinks the break might help her in the long run. Either way she is a force to be reckoned with heading into the Olympics next year where she undoubtedly will be fighting for the top prize.