It takes energy, commitment and determination to make it to the top in sport. But you can double that if you’re trying to manage it in two. Don’t bother trying to dissuade Adele Nicoll, though. She’s got it all planned out, as she tells Owen Morgan.
An impressive training video on Instagram led to Welsh shot put champion Adele Nicoll being head-hunted by the Great Britain Olympic bobsleigh team.
When top GB pilot Mica McNeill saw the sheer power and speed generated by Nicoll in a lockdown training session last year, she instantly wanted the bobsleigh novice to bid for a spot on her team at next year’s Winter Olympics.
But while Nicoll’s main focus is currently on becoming one of McNeill’s brake women in Beijing, don’t think for a second the British Indoor Championship bronze medallist has taken her eye off the shot put.
At the end of May, the 25-year-old produced a huge personal best at the Manchester Invitational Meeting, just days after celebrating an impressive win for Wales at the annual Loughborough International meeting.
All this despite her current training regime being tailored towards this September’s Olympic bobsleigh trials, where she hopes to earn her place in Beijing.
As a result, Nicoll is harbouring the double ambition of representing Great Britain in the bobsleigh next February and Wales in the shot put at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham some five months later.
Speaking from a bobsleigh training camp in Newcastle, Nicoll explained how her recent successes in the throwing circle means a Beijing and Birmingham double is a possibility.
The Birchfield Harrier told Dai Sport: “I had the Loughborough International on the Sunday and I felt good.
“My training is geared towards bobsleigh, but I knew I was in good shape in terms of what I’m lifting in the gym and things like that.
“So, my only worry was that I hadn’t spent enough time throwing, but the physical attributes obviously helped me a lot on the Sunday, and I threw a season’s best. I was so over the moon with throwing 16.14m.
“This year, I would have been happy and proud of myself to have gotten over 16m after changing so many things, but to have done it so early on in the season is great.
“Then, to have gone on again to Manchester on Thursday and throw a lifetime best – I honestly was not expecting it at all.”
At Manchester, Nicoll took first place again with a throw of 16.49m – eclipsing her previous best of 16.34 set on the way to winning the Welsh title in July 2019.
The new PB is also the second longest distance ever registered by a Welsh woman. Only Olympic and World Championship shot put finalist and Commonwealth Games discus silver medallist Venissa Head has ever thrown further.
Although aware she was in good physical shape from her intensive bobsleigh training, the Welshpool athlete hadn’t expected to be in the shot put form of her life, especially given her busy schedule.
“I was honestly shattered,” she said. “I’d had such a busy couple of days after Loughborough. The difficult thing for me at the minute is trying to manage two sports that have completely different seasons.
A fantastic school visit by the amazing @adelenicoll !!! 🌟 The pupils were so inspired by such an incredible local athlete. You truly are an inspiration to so many young people, and you are the most down to earth and humble person ever. I’m so grateful to call you a friend! 🤍 pic.twitter.com/rdhBsuDSkt
— Miss Weaver PE (@MissWeaverPE) May 25, 2021
“I’m currently in the biggest strength block ever for bobsleigh. Whereas for shot put, really, I should be in my fastest, most powerful, lightest block.
“But it’s proved to actually not have a negative impact on the throws. So I may keep this kind of programme in for the future!”
Nicoll feels focussing on earning a place in McNeill’s two-woman GB bob has inadvertently played to her natural physical strengths in the shot put.
Having started her athletics career as a heptathlete as a child, Nicoll decided to focus fully on the shot put, which had emerged as her strongest discipline.
Having spent the past few years concentrating on building up her strength in order to compete at the shot put, her bobsleigh training has taken her back to her original strengths of speed and power and seen her shed two stone in weight.
Nicoll explains why she feels the changes have benefited her shot put performances so dramatically.
“I used to train like a multi-eventer, so lots of running, jumping, athletic movements, and then I started specialising in the throws.
“I spent a lot of time thinking I needed to be like others who were better than me. I almost abandoned my strengths and started trying to be stronger and train like an athlete that I just naturally wasn’t.
“I think bobsleigh has brought back my happiness in terms of being true to myself as an athlete. And now my programme is very much more individually tailored towards what I enjoy doing, what I’m good at doing.
“Of course, you always have to work on your weaknesses, but in terms of all the running and jumping, and all that kind of stuff, it’s all back in my programme.
“When I was a youngster, and I was doing so well at the shot over other events, I was training like I am now. So maybe I should never have tried to train like a thrower. Maybe I should just always have trained like Adele, if that makes sense?
“I just became way too focused and consumed by one event and one method and trying to almost not be the best version of me, but trying to be the best version of this particular model that I had been told was the best way to be, or believed was the best way to be. But really, the best thing to do was to be the best version of myself.
“I just think that whatever you naturally enjoy and what you’re better at, you should really work to your strengths and not try to be somebody else, or try to be a different athlete.
“I think I spent a lot of time thinking, ‘oh, my gosh, some of these girls are so much bigger, so much stronger, I need to get bigger, need to get stronger.’ But actually, when that stopped, my strengths started showing through again, which was the speed and the power.
“I’m never going to be as big and strong as some other people in the throws, but they’re never going to be as fast as I am.”
It was that speed and power which first alerted Britain’s top bobsleigh pilot McNeil to the shot-putter’s potential to switch sports and become one of her team of brake women.
Nicoll explained how the unexpected opportunity came about: “I was training in lockdown last year and I posted a few videos on Instagram.
I got a First in Clinical Neuroscience😭🙌🏼 Lockdown has actually given me time to focus on University. I’d usually be juggling a Masters Degree, Working 30+ hrs a week, training 6 days a week and volunteering. Silver linings 😌
— adele (@adelenicoll) July 30, 2020
“I think I posted one video where I was doing some sprints in a park and the video came up on Mica’s explore page on Instagram.
“She clicked on it and found herself on my page and was looking at all my training videos. She said to the person she was with at a time, ‘Christ, she can shift for a shot putter, she’s moving quite fast’ – and that’s considering I was like 92-and-a-half kilos at the time.
“Whoever she was with said ‘message her and get her involved’. So she messaged me and said ‘if you ever want to give bobsleigh a go, you’re welcome to come along, I think you’d be quite good at it’. So that was it and we just got chatting.”
The opportunity came at just the right time, says Nicoll. “All the competitions for athletics had been cancelled due to COVID. And I’d gone a couple of years where I hadn’t improved much.
“I’d stuck it out and I stuck it out and I just thought last year ‘I need to make a change, whatever that is’. For over a year I knew I needed to make a change and I didn’t know what it was.
“And then this opportunity came along and this was it. This was the change that I needed.”
McNeill’s faith in Nicoll’s raw talent appears to have been well-founded as the athlete has continued to impress since being recruited onto the bobsleigh programme.
The former Cardiff Metropolitan University Student has impressed the GB set up with her dedication and aptitude for the sport.
Nicoll said: “I haven’t done a race with them yet, but I’m training with the squad. I’m actually up in Newcastle now. It all happened quite quickly, but I’m absolutely loving it. We have the trials for the Olympics in September.
“If you’d have asked me six months ago, I wouldn’t have said there was any chance I’d be anywhere near being in contention for those trials. But now, yeah, I’m training with the other girls and I’ll be at the trials and I’ll be trialling against them.
“I guess we’ll see what happens, It’s been such a quick turnover, but I’m looking forward to it. And to be honest, it’s a sport that I would definitely stay involved with for the next cycle regardless, so you know, I’ve got nothing to lose.
“We’ve got some testing coming up in Bath and we will be going to Germany to get some pushes out on the ice.
“All the brake women that are on Mica’s training squad will all push off against each other and only two will get to go to the Games.”
Although Nicoll has yet to actually race, all the indicators are there that she has every chance of achieving her ambition to be part of the team in Beijing.
“I went out on their season last year, but I would have been too heavy to race. We would have got disqualified. So that’s why the weight loss was so essential. I wouldn’t have been legal to race.
“So I was doing a lot of training pushing. And we did some trial pushing in Germany. I have been on ice and I’ve put some times down.
“But I think Mica’s point of view, seeing my body composition change and my commitment, dedication, and my performance in the gym on the track, even from shot, that just shows the kind of form I’m in.
“Even when I was heavier, the times I was putting down, were decent, and they were in the mix with the other girls. So that’s why it’ll be interesting to see how I push now I am a much lighter.”
Is she prepared for the kind of speeds, thrills and spills international competition will inevitably bring?
“Yes,” Nicoll answers without hesitation. “It’s a little bit scary. But it’s a thrill and I love it. And like I said, I’ve been looking for a change for a while. Things had become a little bit mundane.
“And now I’m loving it and I’m loving athletics much more too. It just gives me a little bit of something. I’ve been involved in athletics since I was nine-years-old. So it’s just given me that little bit of extra excitement.”
Athletics to bobsleigh may appear to be a huge change of sporting direction, but there are plenty of successful converts for Nicoll to draw inspiration from.
Most notably, perhaps, her Birchfield Harriers and Wales athletics team mate Mica Moore.
The Commonwealth Games sprinter successfully switched to bobsleigh prior to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Moore teamed up with McNeill to enjoy the highest ever Olympic placing by a GB female pair when they finished eighth.
Nicoll says: “Mica (Moore) is an amazing example of how transferable skills can be from athletics.
“And I think a good athlete mindset is to think that if someone else can do it, why can’t I?
“Obviously, having someone like Mica from Wales, just seeing how well she’s done, I just think ‘wow, you look like you had a great time’.
“Mica trains unbelievably hard and she’s a great girl. So, I just think it’d be great to follow in her footsteps.”
Although her main focus is still currently on bobsleigh, Nicoll’s recent performances in the throwing circle have convinced her she could also follow in Moore’s footsteps in competing for Wales at the Commonwealth Games.
“In the last six months that’s become a possibility . . . even in the last week, the Commonwealth Games has become even more of a possibility,” says Nicoll.
“So things are changing constantly. Daily, really.
“Obviously, with the trials coming up I need to focus more on bobsleigh at the moment, but I do have the British Championships at the end of June for athletics.
“And then the Welsh Championships in August, so I still will have those very much in my plans. I hope to do really well at those but yeah, my programme is more tailored towards bobsleigh, however it seems to be working for shot put anyway!”
Nicoll hopes that winning formula will help her achieve her twin sporting goals, rather than having to choose between them.
“The Commonwealth Games is the only place that you could go and represent Wales as an individual nation. And that is just so special.
“Obviously, the Olympic Games is the biggest event globally, you couldn’t get bigger, but on a scale of where I can represent Wales, Commonwealth Games is also just as big. So yeah, I honestly couldn’t pick between them.
“It’s my motivation every single day to train. I wake up every single morning now wanting to train and excited . . . excited for what’s to come.”
If competing in two of the biggest sporting events on Earth isn’t enough, Nicoll, who recently gained her Masters, also has plenty of ambitions away from the sporting arena.
“In September, I am going to apply for my doctorate in clinical psychology, I want to specialise in neuro psychology.
“I’ve got a new job. I was working at Cardiff Met for years. They were amazing, the best employer I could have asked for to enter my working world. I was working for them while studying.
“Now I’ve moved home, I’ve left Cardiff Met and I’m working for a private hospital called Elysium Healthcare.
“It’s amazing. It’s a great place to work and for me to get a lot of experience. I enjoy that. And that’s given me really good experience for psychology working as a healthcare assistant there.
“Hopefully, soon I’ll be able to be able to do some assistance psychology work and then do my doctorate. That would be quite full on but wouldn’t start to September next year, anyway. ”
Despite being an international athlete, bidding for success on two fronts, Nicoll is more than aware of the need for a career away from sport.
“Literally, a very tiny percent of people are able to be a full time athlete, the majority of us do have to work alongside that and really graft, you know?
“We’re juggling everything. At one point, I was doing a full time masters, full time work, training six days a week and volunteering for stuff to get onto my CV.”
However, Nicoll wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m just so determined in everything I do, I want to do it to the best of my ability. And I have always been so passionate about doing everything I want to do, and not allowing one thing to stop another.
“I’d never allow sport to stop my education. And I’d never allow my education to stop my sport.
“It’s a heck of a lot easier now I’ve finished my Master’s. I’m obviously looking forward to the doctorate, which I’d start in late 2022 – if I’m successful. There’s only a 17 per cent success rate on getting a place on the doctorate.
“It’s another challenge, but I’m determined to just do everything I want to do and have the best of both.
“I feel a lot of athletes invest so much into sport, which I do. I am 100% invested into sport. I think that’s obvious to a lot of people, especially right now, every day, I’m really passionate about it.
“But I will always make time for work and education because at the end of the day, we will retire at some point.
“For a lot of athletes, the way that they deal with retirement, not having anything else to go into, can be really, really hard.
“So yeah, I’m making sure I have things set up for later life.”