Keely Hodgkinson aiming to match exploits of childhood friend Toone

Keely Hodgkinson aiming to match exploits of childhood friend Toone

Keely Hodgkinson had the nickname ‘Mini Ella’ at school after Lionesses star Ella Toone – now she wants to match the exploits of the Euro champion.

Manchester United striker Toone scored England’s opener at Wembley on Sunday as they were crowned European champions for the first time after years of heartache.

She and Hodgkinson go back all the way to their time at Fred Longworth High School in Tyldesley near Wigan, close friends despite being two years apart.

Since then, both have gone on to excel at the highest level of elite sport, with Hodgkinson always convinced that Toone would make it to the top.

Now the middle-distance star, who is one of over 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support, is hoping to use the Lionesses’ glory as inspiration in her own quest for to break her silver hoodoo at the Commonwealth Games, having finished second at the World Championships last month after doing the same at the Olympics in Tokyo.

She said: “I thought it was absolutely amazing. I really enjoyed watching it. I think about what that’s going to do for women’s football, women’s sport. Seeing all those little girls watching away, it’s really nice to see that because when we were younger, we wouldn’t have had that. Ella did so well to score as well. I know she’s on cloud nine so big congrats to her.

“We went to school together, she was two years older than me but somehow we ended up getting on really well. I was always known as a ‘Mini Ella’ growing up at school so we’ve kept in touch since then. Obviously she was in Tokyo last year with the football so we’re just two young girls living their dreams.

“She used to play on our boys football team and was smoking them so there was absolutely no way she wasn’t going to make it. We’re from the same school, we were probably raised about four miles away from each other. So it’s about putting our home town on the map.

“It’s a world class field (in Birmingham), the only people we’re missing are the Americans and some of the Ethiopians so it won’t be easy but hopefully I can come away with the gold this time.”

Hodgkinson cruised through the heats of the 800m, where she will be favourite to triumph in a high-class field that includes Olympic 1500m silver-medallist Laura Muir.

For many years, the Scot was the nearly-woman of British athletics, unquestionably among the greatest talents in the sport, but denied medals at the biggest events.

While that tag disappeared when she won Olympic silver, Muir has unfinished business at the Commonwealth Games, having been clipped in the final of the 1500m on home soil in Glasgow eight years ago.

“Being a medal contender and getting tripped was absolutely gutting and I think that’s still the most disheartening performance of my whole career,” said Muir, who will race in both the 800m and 1500m and joined Hodgkinson in reaching Saturday’s final.

“So I want to put that right and what better way than to do two events and double the chances to get on that podium.”

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