Even the best season of her hammer throwing career, one in which she defended her national title, threw further than ever before and helped the women’s team finish third in the European Cup, had not been enough to earn Zoe Derham a flight to Beijing.
Until Aston Moore rang last Saturday morning.
UK Athletics’ senior performance manager for field events was the bearer of good news. He informed the Birchfield Harrier that in light of her recent improvement she had after all be chosen for a role on the highest stage of all. Derham's summer destination was changed from Faro to the Far East and happily so.
Derham is a laconic character and never one to talk in terms of bitter disappointment or intoxicating euphoria yet even she is aware of the brinkmanship associated with her call up.
In the past, pressure and Derham have not gone well together. She was more likely to throw a personal best at an obscure meeting in Croatia than she was at Annecy or the trials ten days ago. Indeed, her previous experience of major championships did not go her way and even 12 months on threatened to undermine the fulfilment of her Olympic dream.
“I really didn’t do well in the World Student Games last year,” she said recalling the fact even her furthest effort was eight metres short of par.
“I was worried that might count against me this time. Then after the trials when I got another B standard I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Derham was given another chance. Last Monday she was told the selectors required the full A standard of 69 metres, a distance never achieved by a British woman. With one chance to go she headed off to the Loughborough European Athletics Permit meeting just two days before the final wave of selections was to be made.
“At the start of the week they said 69m or nothing,” she says. “I wasn’t feeling too well at the time. I had picked up a virus during the trials and when I heard that I thought ‘Oh my god, that’s not going to happen’.
“I went into Loughborough knowing it was a big requirement but I tried not to think too much about it otherwise I’d just have panicked.”
But panic she did not. In fact the Gloucester-based athlete produced the best series of her life. Four throws in excess of 66m and crucially in the fourth round her first ever over 68m.
“The moment I threw it I knew it was a good one but I had been so focused on 69m that when the distance came up as 68.63m I was disappointed because I had forgotten it was actually a PB. Even then I didn’t know what it meant in terms of selection.”
It was not only the longest of her career by nearly a metre, it was the third longest by any domestic competitor, male or female, this year. But more importantly it was just 30cm short of the British record thrown by her coach Lorraine Shaw at the same venue five years earlier.
“When Aston phoned it was such a relief. I was supposed to be training at 12pm and only got the call at 11.15am so I made a few quick calls and headed straight out the door. I am so happy about it.
“I can only think they have given me the chance because I have improved under such pressure.”
To say Derham will be under no pressure in Beijing is not altogether true. With the leading distance in the world this year standing at 77.32 by Aksana Miankova of Belarus there is little prospect of a medal but that is not to say the British champion is not competing for a relatively high prize.
She is currently on low level, England and Commonwealth band funding which amounts to less than £2,500 a year.
“It allows them to stick me together again if I break down,” is how she describes it.
A domestic record, even something over the magical 70m would bolster her case for enhanced support.
“I would love to go full time. I probably do all the training a full time athlete does – six days a week but I just don’t get the time to rest around a full time job. It would be interesting to see how I could do if I wasn’t tired from working or travelling when I train.”
She might even be able to take a holiday.