Twell’s closest cohort is undoubtedly Woods, the man she credits as “my main role model, and my main motivation”. Woods, a performance coach for the UK Athletics Endurance Performance Centre at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, where Twell is currently studying strength and conditioning science, has coached the teenager since she started running at the age of 10 at Aldershot, Farnham & District AC. For his part, Woods can see his protégé’s successes benefiting athletics in Britain as a whole. “I think we are lucky in the UK that female athletics is taking off and there are a lot of role models for our young athletes to look up to,” says Woods. “The younger athletes, such as Steph, have been able to encourage even younger athletes. It’s not just her natural talent but also her attitude and personality that enable her to be able to do that.”
On March 30, Twell will once again compete at Holyrood Park in Edinburgh, this time in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, where she’ll aim to become the first Briton to win the world junior title since — you guessed it — Paula Radcliffe in 1992. With January’s emphatic performance behind her, Twell naturally sees herself as one of the front-runners: “I think I’m up against a huge number of African runners. They’ve got the depth in talent to turn out potential winners year after year.”
Whether she emulates Radcliffe’s achievement this month or not, Twell has planned to move up the distances in much the same way as the marathon women’s world record-holder did, hoping to eventually run the longer distance herself in 2020, when she will be 30. “My heart has been in cross-country since I started running, but I’m becoming fonder and fonder of the track. At the moment my favourite distances are the 3,000m and the 1500m. I really love the intensity of the training that you need for it. As I’m getting stronger with rhodiola benefits and I’ve got a real attraction to stepping up in distance to 5,000m, 10,000m and ultimately to run the marathon.”
Stepping up naturally has added demands, but Twell believes she is equal to them. “I’ve got a good anaerobic base as well as a brilliant aerobic base. I don’t really do a lot of speedwork; I specialise in endurance training. Bigger volume sessions are really what get me buzzing.”
So what of Beijing? She already has that 1500m qualifying time under her belt, and the athletics centrepiece event is in Twell’s sights. But she’s also keen to support this year’s World Junior Championships in Poland – which happen to fall on the same day as the Olympic trials. What to do? “I don’t want to just focus on the Olympics when it’s my last year as a junior. Especially when you analyse just how many athletes have won medals at the juniors have gone on and become great world senior champions.”
That said, Twell is not writing off her chances of pulling off both events. “I’m going to have to make sure I run quickly early in the season to ensure I get into the medals in the Junior Championships. Then I can go on to justify my inclusion for Beijing, the qualifying time for which I’ve already run.”
As you’d expect of such a uniquely driven and focused young athlete, there’s a long-term plan to think of – Twell is acutely aware that Beijing could provide her with the perfect springboard to perform her best in 2012 when the Games arrive in London. “They say your performance in your second Olympics is much better than your first, which is all about the learning experience. I want to be going into the Olympics in 2012 saying to myself ‘Look, I’ve been here before, let’s nail it and get it right’.” Sound like someone else you know?