By Tom Walker | Sport Editor
The weekend of March 5 saw a select group of Team Great Britain (GB) head to the city of Torun, Poland to compete in the 2021 European Indoor Championships. The biennial indoor track and field competition was the first the first major multi-event competition for over a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ahead of the Olympics in the summer, it was a chance for many to get some much-needed competitive competition under their belt before Tokyo.
One of those involved was the 21-year-old Welsh runner Joe Brier, who along with his team picked up the Bronze medal at the 4x400m event, helping Great Britain equal their record of 12 medals at a European Indoor Championships, set in Glasgow two years ago.
“It was amazing when Lee [Thompson] crossed the line and we realised we had the Bronze medal.” Brier explained, “It was a great feeling medalling alongside those guys who all work as hard as I do”.
The race was won by the Netherlands with a European lead time of 3:06.06, followed by the Czech Republic, with Britain finishing with a superb time of 3:06.70 to secure third.
Alongside Brier was fellow Welshman Owen Smith. “I have been training with him for around three and a half years now but had never ran a competitive 4x400m with him before which is pretty weird.” Said Brier on Smith. “I was a lot more confident having Owen in the second leg because I know he would deliver and give it his all.”
Brier was given the duties of opening the team up in the first stretch, a seemingly daunting task, but one that he embraced. “There was definitely a bit of pressure starting” the Welshman explained, “I spoke to Christian Malcolm beforehand who said to bring the same energy as the heats and try to get as close to the front as possible. I was running in lane three which is always quite difficult to do indoors, especially as those in [lanes] four, five, and six had a lot easier routes to get into the pack.”
“I got chopped up a few times, but that is just part of the parcel with indoor running and is what makes it so fun.”
Alongside running, Brier is studying a Masters in Sports Broadcasting at Cardiff Metropolitan. “It is about finding a good balance between work and training.” Said Brier, “I usually train in the morning and leave my work until the afternoon. It is just about finding a routine that works for you.”
The preparation for his first major Championship was probably not as plane sailing as the 21-year-old would have hoped for, with many facilities across the country closed to the masses and many athletes. However, Brier was dubbed elite exemption during his preparation, meaning he could gain access to some facilities, a feat he explained he did not take for granted given many other Welsh athletes’ situation.
Heading into the European Indoor Championships Brier set sights on the 4×400 and the individual 400m. “Me and my coach targeted the 4×400 from the start, but as training progressed, I realised I was getting closer to the standard for individual running which is when we considered the individual event too.”
“Unfortunately, the individual 400m did not quite go to plan, but it allowed me to focus more on the 4×400.”
Brier’s coach, Matt Elias, was himself a former Wales and Great Britain international runner, finding success in the 400m and Hurdles. “He definitely holds a lot of experience with Championship running and specifically the 4×400 event itself.” Brier said on his coach’s influence. “His Commonwealth Games 4×400 performance is one of the best anyone has ever run, and he has also run quite quickly indoors as well, so I have full confidence in him and what he talks about; I find it incredibly helpful.”
As the curtain drew on his first major Championship, Brier reflected on his breakout performance: “It was very eye opening.” He explained, “I gained a lot of experience in terms of running championship rounds and how to respect guys like Pavel Maslák who I had in my individual 400m heat. When you line up next to someone like that who is a three-time World champion, and four-time European champion, it makes you realise where you are, and that you can be just as good as they are.
“There is a sense of deserving and you want to give everything you can to beat them.”
Like many athletes, 2021 looks set to be a huge year for Brier, with the Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, and before that the Under-23’s European Championships. “I am focused on the Under-23’s European Championships at the moment and looking to hopefully medal there in the 4×400, and as an individual athlete and if that goes to plan, maybe looking at being part of the team for Great Britain in Tokyo.”
“There are a lot of opportunities for me this year, so I really want to make the most of it and nail it on the head.”