Rebecca Chapman or ‘Becca’ as she is known to her peers, is a familiar and popular face on the Welsh Athletics scene, but her rise to the top hasn’t always been a smooth ride. On Saturday afternoon at the British Championships in Birmingham, with one final jump left in her competition, all eyes were on Becca. The crowd joined in with her for a slow hand clap as she began her run-up, and as they reached a crescendo she hit the board with all her force, and flew through the air. There was a silence in the crowd, a sense of anticipation that this was something big. It seemed like an eternity before the stadium commentator confirmed the distance. The silence was finally broken when the announcement was made that Becca had jumped an astonishing 6.54 metres; a huge achievement, breaking a 35-year-old Welsh record and also achieving the Commonwealth Games ‘A’ standard. A big leap in the air and a loud shout of “Yes!!” followed by a long run down to the home straight to hug her relatives and coach demonstrated just how much this meant to her. While this was a truly heart-warming moment for athlete and coach, her history of injury and illness shows it’s not been an easy journey for the Cardiff AAC athlete. However, it’s safe to say she’s currently in the form of her life.
After being presented with her silver medal, a delighted Chapman said: "I am literally over the moon! It was really tense out there, and I felt really nervous before the competition. I love jumping at Birmingham, I've always jumped really well here, but I wasn't quite expecting that. My coach kept saying to me; “start a clap, start a clap, trust me it really helps!” I said that if I was still in second place going into the sixth round then I would do it because I'd have nothing to lose. It actually worked! I'm so happy. It's a Commonwealth ‘A’ standard and that's basically what I was after. That’s done now, so I've just got to go and build on that. It's also my first medal at the British Championships, so I'm really happy."
Becca arrived at Cardiff Met in 2011, primarily as a multi-eventer who had been coached back in Exeter AC by Ruth Godbeer. Clearly, Ruth had done a good job for Becca, developing her into a promising all-around athlete. Before arriving at Cardiff Met, Becca also competed successfully at the English Schools Athletics Championships in Gateshead, by winning the Senior Girls Long Jump event.
Sean Power took over the role as Becca’s coach when she started at Cardiff Met. For her first year she continued to train for all the heptathlon events, as well as trying to recover properly from glandular fever. Power said, “I watched her long jumping and, although she managed to jump 5.80m, I was convinced she could jump a lot further and should perhaps concentrate more on that event.” Therefore, at the beginning of the 2012/2013 academic year, as Cardiff Met’s horizontal jumps coach, Sean talked with her and persuaded her to join his training group and to concentrate a little more on the long jump. She agreed, but still wanted to train for other events as well; so the pair reached a compromise.
This was a pivotal moment in the journey. Along with speed development drills and long jump technical aspects, Sean also introduced Becca to lifting weights and various aspects of plyometrics, together with introducing her to a periodised training programme aimed at delivering in both the indoor and outdoor seasons. All of this was quite alien to her, but she is a very bright woman and had a clear understanding of what they were trying to do. She persisted, and achieved reasonable success as a result of both the quality of her training and recovering properly from the glandular fever.
Becca’s hard work and dedication started to really bear fruit in the 2014 season. Her speed had vastly improved, and at the BUCS (British Universities and Colleges) Championships in Sheffield she won Bronze in the 60m (7.56) against very stiff opposition. She added to this a silver in the long jump (6.07m) as well as a medal in the women’s 4x200m relay. Becca also won a silver in the long jump at the BUCS Outdoor Championships in 2014 and ended the season with five competitions over the 6m mark. Along with all this, Becca achieved a first class honours degree, before moving on to begin her Masters degree at Cardiff Met.
During the 2015 indoor season Becca jumped a significant personal best of 6.23m to win the Welsh International and also won her first BUCS gold medal. As she had been living permanently in Wales for over four years by now, and with the Commonwealth Games on the horizon, she started to think about declaring herself for Welsh eligibility. Her coach indicated that if she started to achieve the appropriate distances, then Welsh Athletics would likely provide medical assistance and other help that may be useful. Sean also encouraged her that there was no doubt in his mind that she was worthy of 6.50m plus, and that this would likely get her into the Wales Commonwealth Games team. However, during the 2015 season Becca started to suffer with a series of illnesses and by the end of the season, her health problems were starting to adversely affect her performances. Becca’s progress began to stall.
The culmination of all this revealed itself during the 2016 season and even though she won the Welsh Outdoor Championships and silver at the BUCS Indoors, by the end of the summer season, everything seemed to be falling apart.
Throughout 2016, Sean and Becca pursued various avenues of medical assistance. They sought advice from the excellent consultant sports physician Dr. Mark Ridgwell who was, as usual, most understanding and helpful. They went on to receive help from other relevant individuals through the assistance of Welsh Athletics. But, Becca was being not only physically, but emotionally affected by all these problems. She was not a happy athlete! As far as Sean was concerned, it was far more important to him for Becca to enjoy her sport than to continue in a mode which seemed to contribute to her unhappiness. Therefore, he quickly agreed for her to go back to her multi-event background and take a more relaxed approach to her athletics and, hopefully, enjoy the sport once more.
Francis Baker took over as the coaching lead in September 2016 with the aim of assisting Becca on a return back to the event of heptathlon. After 8 months of illness, Becca joined Fran whilst not actually being able to train and so it wasn’t an easy start to their relationship. The plan was to get Becca back training for the long jump but with the long-term aim of getting her ready to compete in the heptathlon again. Fran took Becca back to the basics of long jump by re-learning running positions, the take-off shape and angles required.
Fran is one of the up-and-coming coaches based in Wales that Welsh Athletics has taken an active interest in developing. He was supported as part of a cohort of Welsh coaches to attend the Altis Apprentice Coach Programme in 2016 that offered him great insight into both world class coaching and a high performance training environment. It allowed Fran to grow his network of support coaches that he can liaise with on an ongoing basis. Welsh Athletics also provided the opportunity for him to attend the European Jumps Conference, which has proved to be a valuable learning experience to further develop him as a coach. Since then Fran has regularly attended the various coach development activities available to him in Wales and has enjoyed a mutually supportive relationship with Welsh Athletics.
After a successful period of training, excitement was building as the indoor season approached with both Becca and Fran acknowledging the progress they were making. During the indoor season Becca ran two 60m personal bests, and had several promising jumps which showed that she was in shape to potentially jump a Commonwealth Games ‘B’ standard. It was at this moment when Gwyn Williams joined the coaching set-up. Gwyn is a well-established long jump coach, known for guiding Gill Regan to multiple Welsh and Great Britain vests. Gill achieved a lot in her career under the guidance of Gwyn, including making two long jump Commonwealth Games finals for Wales and also setting a Welsh record of 6.52m; the record that had stood for 35 years before Becca finally surpassed it. Gwyn also had other successes, coaching two world top-ten athletes in two different events, an Olympic finalist, World Championship finalist indoors and out and a Commonwealth Games silver medallist.
Becca, Fran and Gwyn had their first meeting in the National Indoor Athletics Centre where they discussed the role Gwyn would play in the set-up. He would act in a mentoring role to assist Fran in his coaching of Becca. Gwyn liaised closely with Fran and before they knew it, Becca had jumped a new personal best and a windy Commonwealth Games ‘B’ standard. This demonstrated her potential to make the Welsh team and also that the set-up with Gwyn and Fran was effective.
Before the British Championships and World Trials last weekend in Birmingham, both Fran and Becca knew she was capable of jumping the Commonwealth ‘A’ standard if she could get things right on the day. The competition was a big one for both athlete and coach, and with Becca’s confidence growing with each round that passed it was clear that something special could happen. With a silver medal already in the bag, Becca produced her fastest approach run to date and of course went on to jump the Commonwealth ‘A’ standard. It was a huge moment for them as a partnership, but Fran was quick to highlight the importance of the support they receive from Gwyn. The guidance and experience that Gwyn had provided was described as ‘priceless’ by Fran, who also acknowledged that breaking a 35 year old record which was held by one of Gwyn’s former athletes was a ‘nice touch’.
When asked about the mentoring relationship that has been created, Gwyn commented;
“It has been a chance to share my skills of 50 years of coaching once again with athletes and coaches and help develop successful coach / athlete partnerships. I have worked closely with Francis and Rebecca particularly to target and improve one weak area of her long jump technique and this has helped her to make big improvements to her personal best this year, earn a silver medal at the World Trials, achieve the Commonwealth Games ‘A’ standard and achieve a new Welsh record - ‘a big leap forward’. Half my lifetime ago, Gill Regan's Welsh record took her to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games long jump final. Hopefully Rebecca's new Welsh record will see her have the same experience”.
It would be fair to say that Becca and Fran have greatly benefited from this mentoring support, and it is certainly good to see experienced coaches sharing their knowledge with younger generations. The future certainly looks bright for Becca and Fran, and with the Commonwealth Games less than a year away, it is hoped that the hard work and improvements will continue to pay dividends.