Athletics: Gunnell Prodigy Back in Running New Faces for 1999: Julie Pratt (Left) Is Showing the Tenacity of Her Famous Clubmate as She Fights Back from an Early Upset
Rowbottom, Mike, The Independent (London, England)
AMONG THE many success stories of 1998 for British athletics, that of a junior athlete bears re-examination. You could call it the Fall and Rise of Julie Pratt.
In the summer of 1997, at the European Junior Championships, she had led at the final barrier in the 100 metre hurdles final only to fall with such force that she grazed herself from head to toe.
A year on, the 19-year-old Essex girl made the most of her final opportunity of racing at junior level when she won the world title in Annecy, France, against a field that included four competitors who had run faster than her best of 13.52sec. Both Pratt and the silver medallist, Hongwei Sun of China, were timed at 13.75sec, edging out the Chinese entrant Hongwei Sun, who had a best of 12.92. That the runners got away after four false starts in teeming rain may have helped Pratt achieve her ambition. "It was absolutely terrible weather," she said. "When I woke up that morning I could see that it was going to be awful. But it didn't really bother me, because I was used to running in the rain." After getting an outstanding start, Pratt found herself level with the Chinese girl with two barriers left. "When I cleared the last hurdle I just closed my eyes and went for the line," she said. "I didn't know I'd won until I heard the announcement." The news prompted loud celebration in the stand from Pratt's parents, David and Arlene. "It was very emotional," recalled Pratt, who now faces the tricky challenge of a transition from junior to senior ranks. Pratt is following in a long line of Essex Ladies' athletes who have excelled over the hurdles. There was Wendy Jeal, who took silver behind Gunnell's gold in the 1986 Commonwealth sprint hurdles, Gladys Taylor, Jean Desforges and Edie Peacock. And, of course, there was Sally Gunnell, the most successful British female athlete in history. Brenda Wilmot, who has been associated with Essex Ladies as an athlete and volunteer for more than 40 years, has a clear memory of the impact that the 11-year-old Pratt made on the club when she began training there - and it was not huge. "She was a tot of a thing," Wilmot said. "She did not have the brilliant star quality that one or two of the other girls had, but she beavered away. "When you have enormous natural talent, the temptation is just to get by on talent. …