Keely Hodgkinson ran 1:55.77 NR in his debut in the 2023 season at the Paris Diamond League. Stuart Weir wrote this interview of the fine British athlete after his discussion with her in Paris. This is Stuart Weir’s fourth piece on the fourth Diamond League meeting of 2023. 

Keely Hodgkinson wins the 800

There was a high-quality 800m race in the Meeting de France.  Raevyn Rogers – 3rd in the 2021 Olympics, 2nd in the 2019 World Championships – ran 2:00 and was 10th, yes tenth!

The top three were 

1 Keely Hodgkinson 1:55.77

2 Ajee Wilson 1:58.16

3 Natoya Goule 1:58.23

There were 5 girls in the 1:58s and three in the 1:59s, but there would only ever be one winner! It was great to see Ajee make a strong start to the season. I always enjoy watching Natoya run. She is an athlete who leaves it all on the track.  She was fourth in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and someone said in the mixed zone, “Fourth is the worst place to finish”. Natoya replied, “Believe me, it is not; eighth is worse!”.  Natoya had gone for it in Tokyo and finished last.

Keely Hodgkinson has achieved so much that it is hard to remember she is only 21. World and Olympic silver-medallist, European champion, Diamond League champion.  I had the privilege of not only speaking to her before the race and after it but also getting the thoughts of coach Trevor Painter.

 Before the race, Keely told me that she had “started the season later than usual because I was very tired and had a few little niggles”, adding, “Because I’ve been away so much, I just enjoyed having the month of May at home to chill and refocus. But in the last two weeks watching other people made me feel ready to go”. She references being away to several training camps in South Africa, where she has a base.  She told me that her goals for 2023 were to “go one better than last year, podium at Worlds, and run a PB.”

Keely Hodgkinson and her coach, photo by European Athletics

Coach Trevor Painter told me: “We’ve definitely upped things in training.  We are working on things for Paris 2024, and I want to see that come to fruition. I’m hoping there will be some fast times and commanding races, but we don’t want to see one-horse races. We want some challenges and to put ourselves up against them”.

He also wanted to see Keely develop tactically, explaining: “Races can be won in many ways, not just from the front. Races can be tactical, and we’re looking forward to some good competition”.

At the press conference, Keely was asked if she might run any 1500s, but she said she was more likely to run the occasional 400. Trevor elaborated on this: “She’s very reluctant [to move up to 1500m], and she is more of a 400m-800m runner right now. It’ll be a few years yet. Maybe LA (Olympics 2028) and onwards. Perhaps we can tempt her into it if she gets bored of the 800m, and we can move her up. She definitely has the skills for it. If she ran one now, she’d run about 4:04-05 but with more training, maybe sub-4. Who knows. We have to persuade her to do it first”.

Keely Hodgkinson, photo by European Athletics

 On working with Keely, Trevor said she was a gem, adding, “You are dependent on how good they are and how diligent they are and how hard they work towards what you are setting. She is very good at that. Whatever we say, she never shirks it. She rolls her sleeve up and gets it done. That’s half the job done, and then it’s about the athlete staying composed during races. She is also fantastic at that as well.  She is very laid-back. She gets on with it and does what she needs to do”.

After the Paris race, she said, “The race was good. I’m really happy with what I  have done. I just wanted to commit today and be kind of brave, especially in the third 200 and commit. Then I saw the [pace-setting] lights go behind me. I was like, OMG”.

Keely Hodgkinson, photo by European Athletics

She was surprised but not shocked by the time: “I think from training, my coach is very good at knowing what kind of shape I am in. I knew that kind of time was in there, but not when it would come out, and I wasn’t putting any pressure on myself. I had in the back of my mind  1:56 today but to do but to do 1:55 and a national record, I couldn’t be happier. The race went out faster than I thought it would, but I was happy to go with the flow and then attack towards the end. Let’s hope the momentum can keep going”.

She saw it as a sign of her maturity that she was now confident front-running: “In 2021, when I was racing, I wasn’t confident being going to the front in this kind of races, but I think now just kind of tell myself ‘if I die I die – if I don’t I don’t!’ But I just wanted to attack it today. 

While I was to speak to Keely, and she knew I was waiting, one of the event staff asked her to go elsewhere. She replied politely but firmly that she could come AFTER she had spoken to me.  What’s not to like about Keely?