Jo Pavey: Mum's the word as athlete becomes oldest European champion in history

Mother-of-two becomes the oldest European champion in history after 10,000m success

letzigrund stadion

Mother-of-two Jo Pavey, an athlete labelled the “fast mum” by the Swiss media, produced the performance of her life in the 10,000 metres to become the oldest European champion in history, celebrating the first title of her lengthy career just 39 days shy of her 41st birthday.

Even more remarkably it was achieved a month before the first birthday of her daughter Emily, who she cradled in her arms as part of her victory celebration around here. Four months ago she was still at home breastfeeding, now she has European gold to add to the Commonwealth 5,000m bronze a mere 10 days ago.

On paper, the gold did not seem like a realistic aspiration, Pavey was only the fifth fastest qualifier and this was not even her best event but experience was undeniably her bargaining chip.

When the Exeter athlete made her senior debut at the 1997 World Championships, the youngest athlete in the field, Jip Vastenburg, of the Netherlands, had just turned three. And that experience of 17 years of top-flight racing was used to good effect as the attritional nature of the 25-lap race took its toll on the rest of the field.

Pavey had never finished lower than fifth at the Europeans but she had spent much of her career looking on as her more illustrious team-mates took the limelight. Her long-time room-mate at major championships was Kelly Holmes, Pavey with no medal to show for her exploits as Holmes brought back double gold to their room at the Athens Olympics. This at long last was Pavey’s moment in the spotlight.

She said: “I just can’t believe it. I really enjoyed it but I’m really surprised. It’s quite funny really to try for so many years and now do it when I’m 40. I should have learnt a few things a while ago”

Nerves had been apparent on the start line and in what was a slow race her positioning ebbed and flowed as she predominantly took up a place in lane two to avoid being spiked on the inside lane.

It was a lead group of 15 runners with five laps left but that stretched out as the pace upped. With two laps remaining, Pavey moved into third and, for the first time of the night, took up the lead at the bell, a position she did not relent despite France’s Clemence Calvin slotting behind her shoulder all the way down the home straight.

Russia’s Irina Khabarova had been the previous oldest European champion celebrating gold as part of the 4 x 100m relay team in 2006 aged 40 years and 27 years. Pavey has ambitions to raise the age barrier further, her sights set on next year’s World Championships and the Olympics in 2016.

It was appropriate that her son Jacob and daughter should be in the stands to watch her in the mother of all runs. “We just thought if she [Emily] got upset my mum could take her out,” she said. “We thought we would gamble it. It made me feel really emotional to have her watch it. It’s the first time she’s seen me run in a major championships.”

Dwain Chambers comfortably won his 100m heat Dwain Chambers comfortably won his 100m heat (Getty)
It was a night for the old guard as Dwain Chambers also rolled back the years. It was in 1997 when he first ran in Zurich, beating Carl Lewis in the process. This time, his opposition was not quite so prestigious as he qualified for tomorrow’s semi-finals of the 100m with a time of 10.18 seconds.

Like Pavey, Chambers had heard the speech of team captain Goldie Sayers the night before who had asked the squad “How would you compete if this was your last race?”. This was not quite that with the semi-finals and finals looming at his sixth European Championships, instead Chambers showed there was plenty left in the tank.

It has all the makings of an Anglo-French battle for gold with James Dasaolu, Britain’s other sub-10-second man in Switzerland, and Harry Aikines-Aryeetey victorious while French duo Jimmy Vicaut and Christophe Lemaitre won the other two heats.

In the women’s heats, Ashleigh Nelson and Desiree Henry recorded personal bests of 11.19 and 11.21sec respectively as Asha Phillip also qualified easily for the semi-finals, while Christine Ohuruogu looked to be slowly getting back to her best with victory in her 400m opening round.

There were day-one casualties in the British camp, the most notable of which was Laura Muir, a medal contender in the 1500m ranked third in Europe this year who failed to even make it out of her heat.

Andrew Osagie’s miserable month continued when he failed to get through from his 800m heat. Commonwealth and European medals had been a target this summer but in Glasgow he was disqualified while in Zurich he finished outside the qualifying spots.

Osagie has been troubled by a sciatic problem all season and felt his glute go as he ran down the home straight. He said: “This year has been the worst year I’ve ever had. On the track and off the track it’s been horrible. This is just another string to my awful season.”

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