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The pole vaulter who gets vertigo; GAMES ATHLETE SONIA ADMITS SHE HATES HEIGHTS.

Byline: MIKE LEWIS

SONIA Lawrence wants to make it to the top as a pole vaulter. Her only problem is she's scared of heights.

The former gymnast is gunning for glory at the Commonwealth Games which begin in Manchester on Thursday.

She said: "I know it's hard to believe but I'm actually afraid of high places.

"Walking up a tall building is not my idea of a good time."

"But Sonia seems to banish her fears when vaulting over a bar up to four metres above the ground.

"It's a bit scary but the sensation you get during freefall in the pole vault is absolutely amazing," she said.

Sonia, 22, switched to the pole vault four years ago after a successful gymnastics career which included a silver medal at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada.

"Although I hate heights, the strength, speed and flexibility I gained from gymnastics has helped me with the pole vault immensely," she said.

Talented Sonia, from Caerphilly, south Wales, who will become the first Welsh athlete to compete in the Games at different sports.

She was encouraged to make the change to pole vaulting by Welsh sprinter Jamie Baulch.

Sonia said: "When my gymnastics career finished at the 1998 Commonwealth Games at Kuala Lumpur, Jamie suggested I give the pole vault a try.

"He said it was a new event for women and reckoned I might have what it takes. I took a year off after the Games, but his words remained floating around in my head.

""When I eventually decided to take it up, I was chucked into the deep end. Everything was new to me and I had my first competition after just three months'' training.

""By the third competition I was representing Wales and by the fourth I was competing for Britain. It really was life in the fast lane.

"Like all vaulters, I've had some pretty bad falls in the box, but you have to accept it comes with the territory.

"Let's be honest, if you have to be pretty crazy to be a gymnast then you must be totally mad to be a pole vaulter."

Coach David Lease believes there are no limits to what Sonia, who has a personal best vault of four metres, can achieve.

He said: "She's a good sprinter, and a fine jumper with this fantastic gymnastic ability.

"She's also the toughest athlete I've ever come across, male or female. Sonia's iron-hard, but she disguises it behind that nice smile."

Recalling her 1994 silver medal success Sonia said: "I was too young to fully appreciate it. Now my aim is to go one better as a pole vaulter.

"I don't keep the medal on my mantelpiece. I think it's in a box somewhere under my bed. That's what comes of having four sisters, you know.

"But if I win the gold at Manchester, I'm going to put it somewhere where the whole world can see."

CAPTION(S):

POLE POSITION: Representing her country; ALL BAR ONE: As a gymnast aged 16; OVER THE TOP: Sonia in pole vault training for the Games
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 20, 2002
Words:515
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