Gwen Berry in the hammer at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright

My greatest challenge – Gwen Berry

Hammer thrower Gwen Berry set a North American record of 76.77m earlier this year. The 28-year-old says her biggest challenge so far was simply qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Dealing with pressure

“The greatest challenge of my career was to finally make it through US Trials. To qualify through the US Trials is very tough and I used to put myself under so much pressure every year to make the team.

“I finished sixth at my first US Championships back in 2011, but because I was a rookie that year I did not feel so much pressure. Yet by the 2013 US Championships I was looking to make the top three to qualify for the US team for the World Championships.

“I threw a PB of 73.81m earlier that season and I was projected to make the team. But I remember during my first throw in the final I felt so much anxiety, I blacked out. I was in the ring and suddenly I went black only to wake up when people shouted ‘move’ because the hammer had struck the cage and it was in danger of landing on my head. It was very scary. Thankfully I avoided the hammer, although for a second (because of the blackout) I thought I had died. My coach then told me to return to the competition but I missed out on making the top eight for three further throws by about a foot.

“I was very disappointed. It was hard to take because I couldn’t explain what my body was doing. I saw a psychologist to help me out but it was only after I saw an allergy specialist was I told my childhood asthma had returned. On the back of this, he told me I was getting so anxious before big competitions and that my heart was beating so fast it could have contributed to a blackout. To combat that, he recommended I should use an inhaler in high-anxiety situations.

“Unfortunately, at the 2014 and 2015 US Championships I finished seventh and fifth (respectively), and in the latter year missed out on the US team for the World Championships in Beijing.

“However, last year I felt I got my mind more together and my asthma under control and I went into the US Trials with a different attitude. I realised It was one thing wanting something really badly; I just had to make things happen.

“I finally made my first major senior championship team by finishing second (with 73.09m) at the US Olympic Trials. It was such a relief to finally overcome the anxiety and pressure.

“I was numb for two days following the event and I couldn’t sleep. It was an amazing feeling to eventually wear that US uniform. I felt like a superhero.”

Steve Landells for the IAAF