Eleven Seconds

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Here's my latest article for BT Storytellers on meeting Jonnie Peacock, Paralympic sprinter:


Anticipation is building as we move to within six months of The Games. Storytellers around the country are tapping into this excitement, recording the 2012 effect on the national mood.

Many of us are wishing we had tickets. Some of us are wondering how the demands placed on public transport in the summer will affect us. We might be trying to decide which other events we will attend, or what cultural activities are taking place in our local community this year.

Yes, people. The Circus is coming to town. The biggest travelling circus on the planet. Lives will be changed forever, and we can be a part of it. But while there are plenty of opportunities for us to 'take part' in the spectacle, our main role will be that of the spectator. We will come in our millions to watch, to wonder at the triumphs and failures as the very best strive to win. For some it will be the culmination of a lifetime's work. Others will be just starting out on their sporting careers. Either way, this event will shape the rest of their lives.

But while we seek to capture the energy that is building around the Olympics and Paralympics, there is a calm eye to the storm. For the athletes themselves, there is still a long way to go. The training continues, there are other events to compete in, injury worries, nutritional details to be worked out, shoes, helmets, blades, wheels to be experimented with. With so much going on, they need to be aware of but not overwhelmed by the sense of anticipation.

Earlier this week, I caught up with Jonnie Peacock, Paralympic sprinter. One to watch, he has the potential to be the best. Inspired to run after seeing Oscar Pistorius, Jonnie went along to a Talent ID day run by The British Paralympic Association and was immediately identified as a real prospect.

Having the talent is only one part of the equation. To be a success an athlete also has to have the drive, the desire to win, the self-discipline, the confidence.

When we talk about talent, Jonnie smiles.
"My coach always says, "You have to outwork your talent.""

"The world record is 10.91. My coach was recently asked who is the one to watch. He replied, "Jonnie Peacock. If he doesn't run 10.9 in London, it's his own fault."

I wonder if this feels like more pressure. If it is, Jonnie takes it calmly in his stride.
"I have the ability to run quick. I don't like to say a time, because I don't know what I'm capable of. I have ideas but until I have five races behind me this season, I don't know what time I'll be running. I surprise myself every year, and I'm in good form at the moment.

"All the medals [in the T44 100 meters] will be decided under 11.2 seconds. It's going to be a hugely competitive event. There are three Americans coming up that are young and they've all taken their times down quickly. Then there's Jerome Singleton and Oscar Pistorius, but Oscar is very focussed on the 400 meters. If he goes to the Olympics, he's likely to be drained. The media attention there is going to be immense. He's been working for it for so long that it will be the height of his career and everything will have been focussed on peaking for that event."

So if the most famous Paralympian on the planet is not guaranteed Gold, does Jonnie think it might be his for the taking? He soon dampens such speculation.

"If you're on that start line thinking "If I get a Gold medal my life's changed," you're not going to run quick. I still don't know exactly what my race plan is going to be or what I'm going to think about when I'm on the line. At the moment I just focus on keeping my head down and exploding out of the blocks, pushing through my left hip. Running the 100 meters is all about acceleration. If you stand up too quickly, you have to hold your top speed for longer because otherwise you start to decelerate. Each step feeds the next step. If you take a step wrong in the 100 meters it can be the difference between first place and last place."

All of the hard work that Jonnie has put in will come down to those few steps. How does he cope with the pressure, the sense of anticipation?

"Sometimes I wake up and think "Two years of training is all for 11 seconds of a race. What's the point?" But it's something I love. I love athletics because it's so raw. If that guy was in front of you, he won. If that guy threw a little further than you, he won. It's about the strongest, the fastest.

"Other times I wake up and think, "What if I break my toe two weeks before the Games? What happens if I fall over and break my elbow, or if I get a cold on the day and it affects my performance?" To combat this, I just take things step by step. This morning I didn't think London's only six months away. I thought, ah I've got to make breakfast. Then I've got to go to training, and then on the track I'm focussed on what I have to do on the track."

And with that, it's time for Jonnie Peacock to hit the gym and dream of dinner. One step at a time...

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