Brianna Beahan, 100m Hurdler


Photography by Andrew James Richards. 

Hurdler Brianna Beahan is clipping at the heels of greatness. The West Aussie finished her 2016 season devastatingly close to the Rio Olympics, just 0.03 seconds shy of the qualifying time. But she’s far from done. In our first ever New Hero profile, Brianna tells Sport Story what 2016 taught her, what motivates her, and what goals she has firmly in her sights for 2017. World Championships, watch out. 

"I started Little Athletics at Under 10s. I started a little bit later – a lot of kids start younger, like Under 7s. I hated hurdles at the start. I was terrible! No word of a lie, I was absolutely this unco person! But I started really focusing from about Under 13s, when I thought, “Okay, I really enjoy this and I’m starting to pick it up.” I made States just, and I never made finals. It wasn’t until my final year of Little As that I first medalled. I was just one of those kids who was kind of okay, but I thought, “I really like it so I’m going to stick at it.”

And then, it was my first national competition actually – All Schools in Sydney – that was when I literally thought: I want to be an Olympian.

In 2014 I moved to [current coach] Ryan Purcell. That was when I realized I was going to be at a level that… I kind of shocked myself! You know, I always knew that I had a few technical errors but I didn’t realize how bad they were [laughs]. He sat me down and said, “Alright, if we can change this tiny little thing it’s going to make this big of an improvement.” And then I went from running 13.47 seconds to 13.18s in six months. A ridiculous amount.

We’ve done so much, to the point where we have sat down and literally changed my running style. So I had a lot of problems – you’ll see it in a lot of athletes, especially juniors – leaning backwards and almost braking. Whereas if you’re running in front of yourself it just makes the world’s largest difference. And just a tiny little change like that had completely improved my performance. 

We’re doing some more technical, specific hurdle stuff now and it’s just ridiculously improved everything. This year as well I’ve teamed up with a biomechanist, Andrew Lyttle at WAIS. Honestly, even just looking at the tiniest little thing… All I have to do is bring my lead leg down, and I can go from 13.0s to 12.8s like that. Over two sessions we’ve already improved. I had a season opener of 13.4s, which last year was 13.7. And my second race this year, I ran 13.1s. Yeah. 

I got really unlucky condition-wise in Japan [at the qualifying events], unfortunately. I’m not really one to blame things like that, um… But we physically had the strongest headwinds. And then I only had the one opportunity for the hurdles over there and I just got really unlucky. The winds were all over the place that day. I’m pretty sure I ran 13.1s, so as a whole I ran really well. 

I think the biggest thing for me was Europe [July 2016]. It was such a last minute thing, it was a bit silly the way we did it but in myself I knew that I wanted to go. I had to chase it, I was 0.03s off the Olympic qualifier – I’ve got to do this. So I got there… and it rained the whole time. I got super unlucky with conditions, and they said it was the worst European season that they’ve had. Which is fine, you just have to work with what you got. 

They don’t have the facilities that we have here in Australia, so you have to adapt and normality is completely out the window. Some days I didn’t have hurdles to warm up with. I was warming up on an indoor ice rink, no grass, no nothing. It was hectic. But it was like okay, this is what they do so I’ve just go to adapt and I just learnt. 

I think I knew in myself I could do it. But when I was over there, I just wasn’t mentally there. I was a bit nervous. It was more just not knowing anything, I’m really bad with that sort of stuff. But what can you do? You’ve just got to learn. It was such a good teaching year, I learnt so much about myself as an athlete and as a person.

I’m happy; I didn’t run the qualifier, but it made me realize that I really want this. 

Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings I’m at the track with Ryan. Our training blocks work three weeks on, one off. The body obviously needs time to recover, so that week off we do pool and stuff like that. 

Monday is speed endurance; in-season we’re pretty much looking at anything from 100m up to 150m, and you do reps of them. So it’s more just about keeping your fitness base, everything sort of chops and changes. 

Wednesday is usually hurdles – obviously every session doing hurdles is technical-based, but this is more of a speed block session. We’ll do stuff to first hurdle, maybe up to three or five [hurdles] and that’s about it. Whereas on the Sunday we’ll do technical stuff that’s really specific to literally two or three steps in and just working over the top of the hurdle. And you’ll do it over maybe two or three hurdles. Sometimes we’ll drag it out and do more technical running as well, but that’s usually part of our warm up anyway. Filming, analysis, all of that stuff... It takes a long time but it’s really good because I can see it visually now. Those sessions are fantastic.

Then, on the Fridays we do plyometrics. So down on a hill… obviously with hurdles you need that plyo stuff so that you get a good bounce [in the legs].

Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m at the gym. I go down to WAIS – I have Mark Veron my strength coach, he’ll come down and assist. With athletes you have to be quite holistic. So if you focus on one area you’re going to feel like crap the next day because you might feel really bouncy in your legs but your upper body is just, like, ugh. I’ve tried to do that previously but it doesn’t necessarily work very well with me. So we just try to work as a whole. 

It is quite predominantly lower legs, because that’s obviously important. But I’ve also had a lot of problems with upper body because I haven’t had that strength growing up. I’ve actually only been in the gym for maybe two years. But I’ve seen a massive improvement, having that [upper body] strength now to keep myself up when it’s windy. We sort of work off the core bases – so your squat, your deadlifts, your bench… I’m trying to learn Olympic lifting – it’s really hard! I’m so unco.

I’m a little bit superstitious. I always have orange juice – I was diagnosed with childhood ADHD. So I can set it off with orange juice… it’s so random, I know! And then before the race, it’s so weird, but I’ll always clap my hands, stand on the right side of the block, and then walk to the front. And then I’m known as the hair flicker, I flick my pony. I just flick my hair over the line and it will be over the front, because I hate having my hair touching me. I can’t feel it when I’m going because it’s just adrenaline. That’s my little weird and wonderful thing.

Ultimately I really want to qualify for World Champs. I won’t be disappointed if I don’t, solely because I know that I will still be able to knuckle down and focus on Commonwealth Games, because that qualifier isn’t going to be as quick. But at the end of the day, World Champs is literally the Olympics for athletics. I really, really want to do it. And in myself I know that I can do it, it’s more of the fact of staying healthy, focused on it, balance. Balance is a big thing.

Semi-finals would be really nice. I think that’s the ultimate goal. Obviously everyone would like to make a final! But in yourself as an athlete you do have to be realistic, it depends what I run. You never know. I could randomly pull out a 12.8s or a 12.7s – hypothetically. 

What motivates me is probably that I know I’m going to be satisfied once I do it. So it’s more the fact that I know I’m going to feel good. Having my squad there makes me feel good, so Stix [Jeremy Andrews, long jumper], TJ [McKenzie, sprinter] and I’ve got Ash [Hardisty, sprinter] now, which is really nice having another girl! I would say my squad motivates me to train hard. 

But I would say as a whole what motivates me is that I know I’m going to feel better if I, in myself, meet my goals. And if I don’t, I’ll be dissatisfied."