Jenny Meadows: Catching Olympic fever
Illness and injury meant medal hopefuls missed the Games but 800m runner put aside her disappointment
For Jenny Meadows and Craig Pickering it is not exactly a case of "After the Lord Mayor's show". For the 2011 European indoor 800m champion and the 2005 European indoor 60m silver medallist there was no invitation to take part in the great London Olympic extravaganza. Like many of Britain's best athletes, they had to watch the party unfold from afar – victims of illness, injury and, ultimately, non-selection.
"It was a bit strange," Meadows confesses. "At first I didn't want to know anything about it. It was tough in the weeks leading up to the Games. Every other advert on television was a sponsor of the Games and I was, like, 'I can't believe that I'm in this situation here, where I'm not going to actually compete.'
"But then I got totally converted by it. I don't think anyone in the whole country could have failed to have caught that Olympic fever. I was so proud to be British. Because everyone was performing so well, it gave you that sense of optimism, thinking, 'Ah, I wonder what I could have done if I had been part of it.' "
Meadows did everything she could have done to have been a part of London 2012, rather than sitting at home on the outskirts of Wigan watching the Games on TV with her husband and coach, Trevor Painter. In fact, the diminutive Lancastrian who goes by the name of "Pocket Rocket" is paying the price for doing rather too much.
After spending six months struggling to overcome an Achilles tendon tear, Meadows made a desperate attempt to get into shape before the selection deadline, only to suffer another setback that ruled her out of the European Championships in Helsinki in June. Instead of returning to action on the post-Olympic circuit, the 31-year-old will be heading to Stockholm this week to see Professor Hakan Alfredson, the world's leading specialist on Achilles injuries.
"We're pretty sure the original injury, the tear of the Achilles, is OK," Meadows says. "But I could have done a little more damage by racing against time. I needed to race before the selection deadline and tried to cut a corner. I tried to race maybe four weeks before I should have and that has affected it.
"We just need to see the best guy in the business to tell us what's going on. It's frustrating, but Trevor and I would do exactly the same if we were given the time again.
"In March we were given the scenario, 'How important is the Olympics?' And we were, like, 'Very important'. I could have decided then, 'I'm not going to try, I'm just going to let it heal.'
"I probably would have been fine by now but because I did rush it I've obviously caused a bit of longer-term damage. But for the rest of our lives we would have been thinking, 'What if? What if?' We're both glad we didn't just sit back."
Pickering, in contrast, had no option other than to sit back and wait for the London Games to unfold without him. "I knew since January that I basically had no chance of making it, so I had a long time to come to terms with it," the 25-year-old sprinter reflects. "I had six months to realise I was going to have to watch the Olympics and not be a part of it. So it wasn't as hard for me as it was for Jenny. I can imagine it was a lot rawer for Jenny."
Like Meadows, Pickering had been a British Olympian at the Beijing Games four years ago. His hopes of making the home Games effectively came to grief when he was told in January that he would need surgery to cure a back problem that had held back his progress for several years. In March he had an operation to remove fragments of disc that had been pressing on the nerves in his back. He was told then that he would not race again until 2013.
"It was quite nice to enjoy all of the sports and events at the Olympics," Pickering says, "because when you're competing at a major championship you don't see anything other than your own event.
"I tried to stay positive, but for certain things it was quite hard. I watched most of the Games at home on television in Loughborough but I was in the stadium for the 100m heats. That was quite hard, and watching the relay too. I just wanted to be part of the team."
The sight of Team GB's Adam Gemili setting off too soon on the final leg in the 4x100m relay heats brought a wry, knowing smile. "I was in exactly the same situation in Beijing," Pickering recalls. "In fact, I went even earlier than he did. I was even worse.
"For me, it was great to see Greg Rutherford win gold in the long jump. I know Greg really well. It kind of brings home that normal people can be successful.
"I'm 25. I'm still young," he says. "This injury has been holding me back for a few years, so now that it's been corrected I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do when I get back racing again."
Five who missed the big party
Jenny Meadows (800m) The European indoor champion has been unable to race in 2012 because of an Achilles injury.
Craig Pickering (100m) The sprinter has been out of action since January after a back operation.
Jodie Williams (100m, 200m) Former world junior 100m champion suffered a torn hamstring at the Olympic trials in June.
Steph Twell (1,500m, 5,000m) After recovering from a triple ankle fracture, a foot injury stopped the Commonwealth 1500m bronze medallist from competing at the trials.
Helen Clitheroe (5,000m) European indoor 3,000m champion suffered a foot injury.
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