Mervyn Luckwell: The big man with big ambitions

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FOR a 16 stone javelin thrower getting used to life as the country’s number one, Mervyn Luckwell is a fairly shy, reserved athlete. But all that is about to change with less than 100 days to go before London 2012.

The 27-year-old from Milton Keynes has gone about his business quietly – fulfilling his early years potential to become one of Great Britain’s most underrated stars.

However, now he is preparing himself for the biggest stage of all, and is targeting the Olympic final as the perfect way of forcing himself into the national consciousness.

The former Stantonbury Campus student reached new heights in September last year when he threw a massive 83.52m to win the Final Fling Open Throws event in Wrexham.

That career best throw was easily inside the Olympic A qualifying standard, but now he must do it again this year to confirm his Team GB place.

He gets his first chance to do that at the British Universities Championships coming up at the Olympic Stadium in early May, and he has no doubt that he’ll make it.

“I’ll definitely do it,” he said. “In this sport you’ve got to be confident in your own ability or you’re not going to do anything.

“I went to the Olympic Stadium when it was starting to take shape and to compete there is going to be fantastic. I’m not going there for a tour though. I’ve got to perform. The Olympics are only a couple of months away now and the pressure is on.”

Wearing the orange and black of Milton Keynes AC since his teens, Luckwell started to stand out from the crowd at the age of 16 when he won the club’s Rayner Trophy.

Under the guidance of coach John Tait, it didn’t take him long to show incredible signs of improvement, regularly improving his PB distance year after year.

In 2004 Luckwell was a 57m thrower, the next year he had improved to 69m, and then to 72m in 2006 and 75m in 2007. He stayed at 75m the following year, but 2009 brought a significant and life changing leap to 81m.

Throughout those years he enjoyed lots of regional success, especially on the Southern Men’s League stage for his home town club.

But Luckwell’s breakthrough national event victory came in August 2007 when he won the UK Challenge Final at Crystal Palace with a throw of 70.93m, followed by further glory in 2008 with first place finishes at the South of England U20 Championships and UKA Throws Fest, plus second place at the National Championships in Birmingham.

It was performances like that, and at the French Winter Long Throws Championships in early 2009 – where he threw 81.05m to seal victory – that saw Luckwell go into the year’s World Trials & UK Championships as a serious contender to qualify for his first major international competition.

He didn’t disappoint, throwing 77.70m in July to claim the national title and make the team for the World Championships in Berlin.

Unfortunately with the eyes of the world on him for the first time, things didn’t go to plan, as by his own admission, the occasion got to him and Luckwell failed to reach the final as he struggled to break the 70m mark.

And a dip in form followed in 2010 as he only managed third place at the European Trials & UK Championships. But that came after he sealed the Southern Counties title again with a throw of over 80m to maintain his reputation as one of the country’s top javelin throwers.

But a shoulder injury threatened his rise to the top, and Luckwell was forced under the knife in late 2010 in a desperate bid to solve the problem.

“I started to panic a bit,” he said. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to throw properly again and that might have been the end of my career.

“As an athlete there is nothing worse than the fear of not being able to perform to your best again and those couple of months were extremely tough.”

Thankfully the operation went well and he started on the long road to recovery. In fact 2011 would prove to be a very good year as he rediscovered his best form, and ended the season on an incredible high with that 83.52 throw in Wrexham – on the back of his England Senior Championships win in Bedford two months earlier.

He also came second at the World Trials & UK Championships, but his throw of 75.06m didn’t meet the qualification standard with his arm not yet fully recovered.

Now Luckwell is getting himself into the best possible shape for what is set to be his most important ever year, with coach Esa Utriainen – a former international who has coached in his native Finland for more than 20 years – inspiring him to potentially great things.

He was hired by UK Athletics in 2009 to bring back the glory days of Steve Backley, Tessa Sanderson and Fatima Whitbread to British javelin throwing.

And Utriainen has certainly made a good impression on Luckwell, who is currently on a tough training programme in the build up to the British Universities Championships next month.

Now Luckwell is desperate to follow in the footsteps of Backley and make his mark on the international stage. His year has already got off to a flying start with victory at the Winter Throws in Loughborough – home of the elite training centre where he’s currently based – but of course the one he and every other British athlete is preparing for is now less than 100 days away.

His 79.70m winning throw there topped the B qualification standard for London, and gives him confidence that he will reach the A standard when it matters – between April 1 and July 1.

“I believe I can make the Olympic final,” he said. “I learned lots from the disappointment of the World Championships in 2009 and it’s a great opportunity for me.

“I’m now at the age when javelin throwers reach their peak, and I certainly feel like I’m in fantastic shape. I’m lifting more in weight than ever before.

“But I’m still quite a shy person, and still getting my head around being British number one. I know this is a big year for me and it’s going to bring me lots of attention.”