Jessica Judd ready to make the grade in Gateshead


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The Independent Online

Ten months on from the glorious high of Super Saturday at London 2012, British athletics is getting ready to savour the feelgood factor on home ground once again.

In the case of Jessica Judd, a teenage debutante in the GB squad that contests the European Athletics Team Championships at Gateshead International Stadium over the next two days, you could call it the Dr Feelgood factor.

Like the cult British rock band of the 1970s (and the great British decathlete of more recent times, Dean Macey), the  800-metre runner hails from Canvey Island. “Yeah, she’s spent the first 18 years of her life training below sea level,” Judd’s coach, Rob Denmark, another native of the reclaimed land in the Thames estuary, quipped. “No one’s even mentioned altitude training to her yet. It’s all been on Canvey, which is sub-sea level.”

While the capacity 12,000 crowd expected today will be drawn by the appearance of two of Britain’s Super Saturday gold medal winners (Mo Farah in the 5,000m and Greg Rutherford in the long jump) it is the performance of the senior debut girl that is likely to hold the greatest intrigue for the track and field aficionados as the combined GB men’s and women’s team seek to provide a winning send-off for the departing head coach, Peter Eriksson.

Under Denmark’s guidance, Judd has been on the cusp of a major breakthrough this summer, cutting her personal best for 800m to 2min 00.37sec. She is clearly destined to become the 19th British woman to break the two-minute barrier.

Not that the raw-boned young Essex woman is guaranteed to beat the clock this afternoon. Middle-distance races in what was formerly the European Cup can make for bruising tactical baptisms, as the young Seb Coe discovered when he was bumped and barged into fourth place in San Sebastian in 1977.

“We’re not rushing things,” Denmark said. “Jessica has got 12 years until she’s 30. She’s got plenty of time to get things right. She only finished her A levels on Wednesday – in chemistry, biology and PE.”

Which is another reason for the young Canvey Islander to be feeling good about life just now.