Photography by Jess Briers & Katie O'Neill
Keely Hodgkinson is a middle-distance runner specialising in the 800 metres. At the age of 19, she won the silver medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, breaking the British record set by Kelly Holmes. Keely is a World Championship and Commonwealth Games silver medallist, 2022 European champion and a two-time European indoor champion.
Keely Hodgkinson was raised in Atherton near Wigan in Greater Manchester. She graduated from Fred Longworth High School in Tyldesley and Loughborough College. In 2020, she became a student of criminology at the Leeds Beckett University, pausing her studies in 2021.
Keely celebrates gold in the 800 metres at the 2002 European Championships in Munich (Image/Getty)
Keely at the 2023 British Championships in Manchester
Keely joined Leigh Harriers at the age of nine, but initially swam with Howe Bridge Aces before devoting herself fully to running. She was initially inspired by British heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill winning gold at the 2012 London Olympics. From that point, age-group titles and minor medals kept piling up for Keely. In 2015, she had to limit training and starts due to a mastoidectomy surgery to remove a tumour on her ear, which has left her 95% deaf in this ear, followed by problems with knees. Keely rebounded the following year, in 2017, when the then 15-year-old raced the 800 metres already in the U17 age category. She went on to take her first gold medal at the England Championships, setting a lifetime best (2:06.85), before adding the 1500m (UK) School Games title.
In February 2020, still only 17, Keely set the second-fastest female U20 performance ever in the indoor 800m at the Vienna Indoor Classic in Austria. In September of the same year, she claimed the British outdoor title to become the youngest winner over 800m since 1974.
In 2021 on Keely's senior major championship debut, four days after her 19th birthday, she became the youngest British winner at the European Athletics Indoor Championships for more than half a century and the youngest ever women's 800m European indoor champion. At the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games she blitzed to the silver medal, taking almost two seconds off her fresh personal best and almost six seconds off her pre-2021 best.
In February 2022, Keely recorded the fastest indoor 800m time by a woman in 20 years. In July’s World Championships in Oregan, she took the silver medal after one of the most thrilling finishes of the Worlds, she came only 0.08s behind her great rival Athing Mu. Keely responded a month later by securing her first major senior outdoor gold, winning convincingly in her two-lap event at the European Championships in Munich.
2024 will see Keely in South Africa at winter training camp, focusing fully on winning gold in the Paris Olympic Games.
Keely got her 2023 campaign off to strong start in January on her home turf of Manchester. She set a world indoor best in the less frequently run distance of 600 metres. She rounded off her indoor season with a successful, commanding defence of her European title at Istanbul 2023. Keely dedicated the win to her first coach in athletics, Leigh Harrier’s Joe Galvin, who had died a few days earlier.
At the 2023 World Championships in Budapest, in one of the event's most highly anticipated showdowns, Keely sneaked through inside in the final straight to defeat Athing Mu for the first time, but could not overhaul Mary Moraa, finishing again in the silver medal position.
2020 Tokyo Olympics 800m semi-final
Funded before 2021 by her parents Rachel and Dean, until October Keely had no support from UK Athletics. She was backed by businessman Barrie Wells, who funded her for 9 months (pre & post the Olympics), which also allowed for a spring warm weather training camp in Florida.
THE SHOOT: Sports City athletics track, Manchester
After one of Keely's training sessions in her build up for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games
Student reflection: Jess Briers
My first sight of Keely was as she was put through a grueling work out by her trainer at the indoor athletics track at Sports City. We waited 30 minutes to recover before we started the shoot. I was a little bit nervous but also excited because I had never had an opportunity like this before. Keely was really pleasant and approachable and apologetic for keeping us waiting.
We did the shoot on the adjacent blue outdoor running track, the weather was overcast and then rainy. We started by posing Keely on the track, managing to capture a number of different angles before the rain forced us into the covered seating area. Here we continue to photograph Keely on the steps and then sat in the seats with the running track in the background. Keely is naturally photogenic but was very happy to be directed and open to suggestions.
I was really pleased with my final images, considering that I was working with a camera I had never used before. The whole experience did boost my confidence and I would love the opportunity to work on another Greater Mancunians shoot.