I've fallen back in love with javelin - Arnold

Hollie Arnold throws a javelin at the 2023 Para Athletics World Championships
Arnold has won all the major javelin titles [Getty Images]

After a turbulent few years former Paralympic javelin champion Hollie Arnold says she has “fallen back in love” with the sport again.

The 29-year-old Briton has faced challenges on and off the track, but is now focused on the future as she bids to win her sixth consecutive Para-athletics World Championship title in Japan on Friday before aiming to regain her Paralympic title in Paris later this summer.

Things looked bright for Arnold as 2020 dawned. She was world and European champion and world record holder in her F46 category and was well on track to defend the crown she had won at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

But then the Covid pandemic struck, throwing everything into disarray. The Tokyo Games were postponed for a year and the situation had a huge impact on Arnold’s mental wellbeing.

“It was like having my heart ripped out,” she tells BBC Sport. “I felt I had lost my identity. I know there were so many worse scenarios that were happening to people, but this was my life and my dream and what I train for and things slowly started to slip.”

The Welsh athlete already had experience of mental health issues after her mother Jill was diagnosed with depression in 2013, and started to see some similarities with her situation. Although Arnold was never medically diagnosed, the struggles continued even after she eventually returned to training.

In the midst of it all, Arnold travelled to the Tokyo Paralympics to defend her title and, after leading going into the final round of the competition, she saw rivals Holly Robinson from New Zealand and Noelle Roorda of the Netherlands overtake her and she finished with bronze.

But she regrouped and went to last year’s Worlds in the French capital, throwing a season’s best to win a fifth world title.

“There was extra fire in my belly last year and being able to go out and prove myself was the best feeling ever,” she says.

“I felt like I had finally got a bit of my happy Hollie confidence back and I wanted to build on that for this year.

“When I am a happy and confident Hollie, I am a dangerous Hollie in competition.

“Although Tokyo is always a sore point, I’ve realised now that it was there to teach me, not that I am invincible - I knew that - but that it’s OK to not be able to come out at a major event after a pandemic because I really struggled.”

Her own experience and that of her mother have helped Arnold, and she wants more people to be open and honest about their feelings.

“There are so many people who suffer with mental health, but the more people who speak up about it, the better,” she says. “You are not alone. Never feel afraid or that you don’t want to burden others.

“Talking is the best therapy and there are so many different outlets you can use – things like family, friends and helplines.

“It took me a long time but time is a great healer.”

Hollie Arnold with her 2016 Paralympic gold medal
Hollie Arnold with her 2016 Paralympic gold medal [Getty Images]

Since winning gold in Paris, Arnold, who was born missing part of her right arm before going on to make her international debut at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing aged 14, has also had to deal with a change of coach.

“It wasn’t my decision, but in sport and in life things do get thrown at you and you have to be able to deal with that,” she says.

“I’m happy now in training and, although some people might see the change as a risk, for me it wasn’t and I have fallen back in love with javelin again.

“I am proud of my journey because it took me from Beijing to the experiences of London 2012 and then to Rio before I won my first Paralympic medal.

“It’s not been perfect and there has been a lot of pain and heartache both for me and my family and friends, but it makes it all worthwhile when you have that medal around your neck and you can share that with those who have stuck by you."

The GB team in Kobe will be smaller than at previous Worlds with some athletes opting to focus on the Paralympics, but Hannah Cockroft, Aled Sion Davies, Sabrina Fortune, Jonathan Broom Edwards and Arnold’s fellow javelin thrower Dan Pembroke, who all triumphed in Paris last year, will be among those in action.

“I have a sixth title to go out there and win,” Arnold says. “This is what we train for and I don’t get to compete against a lot of my rivals through the year.

“I’m nervous, but I’m genuinely really excited for these championships.

“I want to go there, have some fun and treat it as preparation for Paris and we will see what happens. It is my title to defend, and I know anything can happen on the day, but I won’t go down without a fight.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this story, BBC Action Line has links to organisations that can offer help and advice.

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