Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Meadows in Bloom


For British athletics’ new queen of the track, the past 12-months have been a dream; courting new-found fame and fortune and medals and records galore. For ‘Pocket-rocket’ Jenny Meadows has truly broken through to global glory in such outstanding fashion of late - and she does not intend on waking up anytime soon; writes Nicola Bamford.

For 28-year-old Meadows, life used to circle around working as the head athletics coach for Manchester Leisure whilst fitting in intensive training sessions around the fatigue. Husband and coach Trevor Painter would also squeeze what precious time left from his sports development job into devising training plans – world domination indeed, seemed a mere pipe-dream for the duo.

Born and based in Wigan, the turning point though, finally came in 2009, when Meadows sped to 800m bronze in the World outdoor Championships in Berlin; catapulting herself to global status and the Lottery funding ladder – the tiring days were over; ‘Jenny from the block’ was now a full-time athlete and her partner in crime could switch to part-time hours.


Their latest haul was that of the silver kind; this time from the global indoor championships in Doha, Qatar last month. Meadows also broke the British 800m record – with 1:58.43 - held by none other than her heroin Dame Kelly Holmes, proving that a little more rest and support was all that was needed for Meadows to reach her full and mesmerising bloom.

So how has the former 400m runner taken the transformation in her (very fast) stride?: “I am not working any harder - I have worked hard for years as an athlete but it is just that it is coming to fruition now,” she explained.

Evidently just as modest and unassuming as ever, the outgoing Meadows continued: "It is bizarre. It is great for me as an athlete to build that confidence but sometimes I read about it and I cannot believe everyone knows who I am. I try and believe what the press write about me and I try and what the commentators are saying. I think just because I’ve had so long in the sport and I haven’t been a household name and I haven’t been used to getting on the podium – it’s still quite hard for me to get used to.”

New territory

Currently training in the South African sunshine, the diminutive Meadows is having a well-earned break from the constant press demands and pressures of racing as she prepares for the forthcoming outdoor season.

2010 will be new territory for the now often-named ‘favourite’ as she attempts to crack the two-lap event at the European Championships this July. Holmes’ national best of 1:56.21 from 1995 (the year in which Meadows took the English Schools’ 800m title before switching to sprinting) may be a little far-reached for Meadows this year but judging by her current rate of progression, a medal will surely be hers for the taking and the time will most likely come sooner rather than later.

“I put in a great performance (in Doha) so I think my goal at every championships now is to try and get on the podium and, if I don’t, it’s going to have taken three very good girls to beat me,” Meadows revealed.

Thrilled with time

Exuding confidence and seemingly enjoying carrying the hopes of a nation in the countdown to 2012, Meadows has turned into a completely different athlete in the past year. Inspired to turn to the half-mile by Holmes’ double gold-medal-winning display in the 2004 Athens Olympics, it is quite apt that Meadows would mould herself into her successor.

“I knew I didn’t have the basic speed to be a world-class 400m athlete and you go and see a British athlete win at a global event and it makes you think ‘maybe I’ve got a chance’. She’s definitely a huge role model for me,” Meadows explained.

“Breaking her record (in Doha) was amazing! I knew from the week before at the UK Champs (where she ran 1:59.11 to initially break the seven-year best) that I was in good shape and it just felt really, really easy. You look at the record and someone like Dame Kelly Holmes owns it, you think ‘I’ve got no right to try and target that! I’m very, very honoured and very, very thrilled to just get that sort of time.”

Overcoming adversity
It is intriguing wha
t Meadows and Painter have achieved since fully-devoting their time to the sport. Previously a mere semi-finalist in the Worlds and Olympics in 2007 and 2008, respectively, Meadows improved to fifth in the continental and global indoors before taking fourth in the European indoor Championships in the spring of 2009 – yet her tiring lifestyle was clearly restricting her to the non-medal ranks.

Attaining sponsorship with Asics helped but ultimately, it was overcoming adversity with the loss of her father to cancer in 2008 which became the main motivating factor to make the step up in class.

“I just look at things a lot more rationally now," Meadows explained. "Life's for living. I'm sick of stressing. 800m is twice round the track outdoors or four times indoors. How can that cause me so much stress? If I'm not enjoying this then what am I doing it for? After my dad passed away there wasn't an instant change, but it sparked a reaction in me."

Sadly, his death came a mere three days before Meadows qualified for her first Olympic Games: "Everybody said 'Don't worry we don't expect you to race,' but I did and I got my qualifying time for the Olympics and it was so good. It just allowed my family to have a bit of a smile on their face, at least for the one minute 59.67 seconds it took. All of a sudden running became this powerful tool I could use to help us get through life. It is hard that my dad is not here to see the successes but wherever my dad is he'll be looking on, really proud that we've carried on."
Dreaming big

Proud he certainly will be as Meadows now finds herself as one of Britain’s ‘faces of 2012’ and developing at the same rate as her impressive track speed.

"The time (I’ve done) says it all. Hopefully there are big things in me to keep on building,” Meadows continued. “Berlin was so special. Doha was very different, learning how to handle my nerves and expectations I put on myself. Silver is fantastic but more the time. My target for the outdoor season is to run 1:57.50 and I am very sure I can achieve that."

With a taste for success, should Meadows grasp gold at the European’s in Barcelona this summer, it will be an achievement that even Holmes herself could not match. And with only 840 days to go until London host the 2012 Olympics, Meadows can-not help but dream bigger about replicating her role-model’s accomplishments:

"I'd love to say yes (I can get the gold). But gosh, just one medal, one gold medal; that would be amazing. My bronze is amazing, but to go one further and get a silver or gold, well, that would be the dream way to end my career."

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