Kelsey-Lee Barber: ‘Pressure is a privilege’

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Kelsey-Lee Barber: ‘Pressure is a privilege’

The two-time reigning javelin world champion is aiming for three consecutive titles in Budapest

Kelsey-Lee Barber wants to make World Cup history.

The 31-year-old Australian goes to Budapest as the reigning double javelin world champion.

She also won the Commonwealth title in Birmingham last summer and has an Olympic bronze medal from Tokyo to her name.

Before the World Cup, AW caught up with the ASICS athlete on all things medals and motivation.

How do you feel before Budapest, being a two-time javelin world champion?

Since I won in Eugene last year, it was a known factor that I was in a really unique position coming into the World Championships in Budapest. I’ve really tried to take ownership of it, embrace it, and realize that the position I’m in is a real privilege. It’s got pressure and it’s very unique, it doesn’t feel unfamiliar in a lot of ways.

The last few years have prepared me pretty well for that repeat top tier success. No one else has been in this position in women’s javelin coming to Worlds before, so I want to take the bull by the horns and fight for that third world title.

You are a champion performer and thrive on the occasion. How does one arrive at this state of mind?

I think every year entering a major has a unique story. This year was no different. I had a few hiccups along the way which meant I didn’t put my best distance on the board, but I always find the final preparation before major championships, getting into that process, great. I love suspense and live for those moments.

There is a sense of professionalism at these championships for the athletes who strive to be the best in the world. I guess I thrive in that environment. I always demand my best, but in this space I can express what that looks and feels like. I can really tap into this energy that wants to shine in the world.

When you line up to throw the javelin, is there anything in particular that goes through your head?

At this point, I’m really trying to make sure I’m going to be the athlete that I know I can be. I have to work, I heard almost let go of the controls. There is a lot of technical work and pieces that come together, but until then I have to accept where I am and let that show in my throwing. These are skills I’ve tried to work on over the past few years and it shows.

You have a love for cooking and reading, which can be quite therapeutic away from the competition. How does this help?

Definitely. It’s about balancing time on and off the field. You burn yourself out if you spend those hours outside of training thinking about it, so I guess for me, reading and cooking is a real step back and escape from that environment. It’s a mental and emotional refresher and then I can concentrate on training. It’s about where I channel my energy.

Kelsey-Lee Barber in Zurich (Getty)

What are your thoughts on the women’s javelin this season? How do you see the scene?

It has been an interesting year for the javelin this season. Lower your hands to Haruka [Kitaguchi] because she was so consistent and honestly her personal best [67.04m] was coming She has certainly put herself up there for sure and is the one to beat this year.

In terms of the participation of our Australian cohort, we have always been very strong in this event and it is definitely coming to the fore again this year. It shows how much the javelin means to Australia. The atmosphere in the championships is very different and you can’t predict the medals, which is the beauty of it.

I love that there’s the element that someone can just go out and do something really special with the copy. This finale is going to be full of possibilities that you can’t predict, and I love that. You can’t rule anyone out in the top 12.

What about men’s javelin and the impact someone like Neeraj Chopra has had on the sport?

I think what’s really wonderful is that I think javelin has moved away from being a European-dominated sport. It’s global. I know Anderson Peters who is from Grenada and you have Chopra.

I mean who, what, where?! It’s phenomenal for our sport and really great to see. This means that going into these championships there may be one or two countries on the starting list that have not been there before.

What inspired you to take up the sport?

I think Sydney 2000 was the moment of realization, but it wasn’t until Beijing 2008 that I probably started paying more attention to the events and realized which ones attracted me more. During this period we had the period of some of the great javelin throwers of all time and it was dominated by Europe.

I think I saw Kim a little later [Mickle] came through. She was one of those who achieved success and were competitive with European women. It was really relatable and inspiring. She paved the way.

Australia’s Kim Mickle celebrates (Getty)

So why the copy?

The Javelin for me was that combination of speed and power. There was also an element of subtlety that I fell in love with. I liked that you had to run, jump and throw. Physically, I held the spear better than the disc, which I did growing up.

I have always felt that in watching the javelin there is something beautiful about the event. I also liked the technical side. It brought together so many things that I loved about being an athlete, and then the event itself.

What did an Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo do for you?

This Olympic medal, after several years of it, I really cherish this moment and memory. I had some really challenging moments coming into this Olympics and it was a wonderful moment of self-belief that came to fruition this year.

I promised my younger self at Rio 2016 that I would be in the medal mix when it came to Tokyo. I held him pretty tight and that was an element of relief. Thinking back, that was a huge thing and I’m proud of it.

Can you believe what you have done in the sport so far?

You sit down and write down your dreams in sports. I labeled them as Olympic, Commonwealth and World gold medals. Then, as I progressed in the sport, some of those dreams turned to gold for me.

I’ve found myself in a position where my goals are now real ones that I’m striving for, and I can’t imagine that there are too many people who have made those little girl dreams come true.

How important was ASICS to you?

I have always felt such a connection with ASICS and this mantra of “A healthy body in a healthy mind” in particular. I want to encourage people to live an active lifestyle, but also realize the impact the mental side can have as well as the physical side. Look at your own reflection and it plays a part in my stories year after year where the mental side is huge before championships.

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