Jess Judd: Golden arches to the golden girl?

Her destiny took shape in McDonald's... Now she is aiming to make mincemeat of her 800m rivals at this weekend's British Championships

It had the makings of a surreal partnership from the very outset – starting with a missed phone call and eventually being set up via Facebook before ending up in a McDonald's in Rayleigh, Essex.

The maverick relationship between 800m runner Jess Judd and her coach Rob Denmark, the former 5,000m Commonwealth champion, has been far from typical, the next stop of which, on current form, is likely to be Moscow next month.

The fact that a year ago this week Judd had never even boarded a plane before makes the pair's story, results and potential trip to Russia for the World Championships all the more remarkable.

It was last July when the teenager from Canvey Island travelled to the World Junior Championships in Barcelona and announced her potential on the global stage with a silver medal. Now she is one of the form British athletes, having run under the dream two-minute barrier for the first time over two laps of the track in Birmingham two weekends ago.

Of the pair's coming together, Judd recalls: "At my sixth form, one of my teachers knew Rob and put me in touch with him. We actually met at McDonald's because the Sainsbury's café was closed. We sat down and I said it would be really good if we could work together and Rob agreed. Then we went to Sainsbury's afterwards and drew up a training plan and what we wanted to do next year. It's worked really well since then."

At first, Denmark had been contacted via phone but, not recognising the number on his mobile, opted to ignore it, and was instead alerted about the opportunity through Facebook.

While the relationship began through modern mediums, there is something very old school about it. Denmark, who had previously been made redundant from his job, offers his coaching services for free, while Judd in turn is like a runner from another era with her flowing locks billowing behind her as she runs.

Her performances this season have drawn praise from all and sundry, including, most crucially, her idol Paula Radcliffe, who described the 18-year-old as getting better with each race after beating an elite field to win the Diamond League event in Birmingham two weekends ago. She had already won the European Team Championships in Gateshead.

Now there is genuine excitement about what she can achieve. "There's a lot of scope here. We're in a good place," says Denmark of his young charge. "She has an amazing capacity to train and I don't think I've taken her to her limit. Time will tell, she's done OK so far."

It would be easy for Judd to get caught up in the hype, branded as the next big thing in British athletics circles, but the understated Denmark, who admits the pair "argue a lot", has continued to keep her well grounded. He has set her the immediate target of consolidating runs at 1min 59sec before aspiring to anything more ambitious. Containing Judd's voluble excitement and enthusiasm will be the hard part.

Dad Mike, responsible for engine testing at the Ford plant in Basildon, stirred his daughter's interest in running by competing in marathons and half-marathons. Judd herself would compete in the junior fun runs and it was at one in Brentwood that she was spotted by her local athletics club. Aged just 10, she turned up for her first session in plimsolls – her running career has been on the rise ever since.

As things stand, Moscow looks tantalisingly close. Judd will book her place by winning the 800m at the Sainsbury's British Championships, which begins this evening and doubles as the World Championship trials. If selected, her heats of the 800m at the Worlds are scheduled to take place on the morning of her A-level results. She is hoping to earn a place at the University of Bath with AAB in biology, chemistry and PE, although she plans to take at least a year off to focus on athletics before taking up her place.

Should there be any reason to celebrate those results, that will, as usual, be put on hold. She explains: "I missed my prom in year 11 and my Leavers' Ball. I've got used to that. I just want to be the best I can. I wouldn't be fair on myself if I didn't give it 100 per cent. Anyway, there's plenty of time to have a good time."

Judd has come a long way from when she ran on the sea walls of Canvey Island. Now the athlete, who was once taught the sport by the wife of former decathlete Dean Macey and tried other disciplines such as race walking and the javelin, is recognised and given words of encouragement as she runs because of her recent achievements.

Judd credits the setback of last year's Olympics – when she missed out on selection – as the springboard to what has happened recently. "I was disappointed, I really wanted to compete," she adds. "It's probably the best thing that could have happened to me as it meant I could knuckle down to training. If I keep working hard one day, maybe I'll be there."

There is already the sense she is very nearly there.

British trials: The key battles

Men's 100m

Adam Gemili is missing at the European Under-23 Championships and James Dasaolu looks the form man at present. But the experienced Dwain Chambers and an in-form Joel Fearon will be among the leading challengers.

Women's 1500m

The trio of Lisa Dobriskey, Hannah England and Laura Weightman all have the 'A' standard required to qualify for the World Championships and are closely matched in a potentially glorious period for women's distance running in Britain.

Women's 400m hurdles

Both Perri Shakes-Drayton and Eilidh Child have been in superb form over the hurdles this season, ranked fourth and seventh fastest in the world this year. Both are bound for Moscow but will be keen on claiming bragging rights.

Injury rules out Ennis-Hill

Jessica Ennis-Hill has delayed her comeback from an ankle injury yet again by opting not to compete this weekend. Her coach, Toni Minichiello, is still optimistic Ennis-Hill will be fit for the World Championships even though she won't have competed since the Olympics.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam