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
Thursday 11 July 2013
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
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.
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.
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