Jonnie Peacock sets out to take the world by storm - again
Sprinter seeks to revive London glory in Lyon and tells Matt Majendie it may even get him recognised in shops
Saturday 20 July 2013
The men’s T43/44 100m final was the most-watched event of the Paralympics with an audience of 6.3 million glued to their televisions as Jonnie Peacock became the fastest amputee on the planet.
Overnight, he was among a new breed of sports stars to become household names, or so you would think.
But as the gloss faded on his golden summer, Peacock has slightly faded back into obscurity. At his local Sainsbury’s in the wake of the Games stood a cut-out of him in action, which he could stand next to piling the groceries into his basket completely unnoticed.
“The billboard was just next to the grapes but no one recognised me once,” he says rather amused, rather than bemused by the recollection. “Maybe it’s because I had a different haircut. The only time I got stopped was by the security guard. I think he thought I was stealing something.”
So has life changed since 2012? “No, I don’t think it has really,” he admits. “I still have to get up in the morning and go training. OK, I might get recognised a bit more and there’s been some other opportunities but that’s it. I’m not complaining, though, I like my life.”
This summer Peacock has a chance to get back into the British psyche. This weekend sees the start of the IPC World Championships in Lyon, for which he is one of the big names, and at the end of the month he will return to the scene of his greatest hour at the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games.
His intention is to stay at the top of the sprint pile and wrest back his world record over the distance, which was recently beaten by Brazil’s Alan Oliveira. American Richard Browne also got close to Oliveira’s mark and has thrown down the gauntlet to his British rival.
“I love getting pushed, it’s good fun and I have enormous respect for Richard Browne,” he says. “He and the other guys are getting faster and faster and pushing me on. I love being the guy to beat – I like everyone chasing me.
“My biggest motivation is some of the stuff he [Browne] says [Browne is fond of predicting he will beat Peacock]. Just ask my mum – it’s all the motivation I need to train hard. The day after his comments, I came to training with a lot more to prove. People are closing the gap and taking the sport more seriously. I love that.”
Despite a strong run in Birmingham at the end of last month, there is an element of the unknown to Peacock’s season, having undergone an ankle arthroscopy just four weeks after the Paralympics. It meant two weeks without walking, then on to crutches, followed by walking with a protective boot before finally running again four weeks later.
In addition, his winter upheaval looked set to be one of relatively large geographic proportions when his coach Dan Pfaff opted to relocate to Arizona. Peacock decided to follow suit in January but it was short-lived. “I made the mistake of being too eager to get back,” he admits. “After my second session I couldn’t run anymore. I was there for three weeks and did just two running sessions. It might have been different if I’d not got injured there but I think I’m too much of a home guy. I didn’t want to be 12 hours away from my friends and family.”
So he opted to return to Britain and start working with Steve Fudge, who had previously been mentored by Pfaff at UK Athletics’ High Performance Centre in Loughborough and also guided James Dasaolu to that 9.91second mark last weekend.
Coach and athlete appear to have hit it off with immediate effect, Peacock praising Fudge as “the best British coach out there” and Fudge in turn heralding the speed with which his athlete has approached and adapted to his changed circumstances.
Peacock has relocated his home to just outside Oakham School in Rutland, which produced England rugby union duo Lewis Moody and Tom Croft, as well as England cricketer Stuart Broad. It’s a quiet but comfortable life as he sets out on building on the events of 2012. He is the first to admit he never thought much past the Games. “I only ever thought about running to the finishing line, not what happened after that,” he says. “I think that was the same for a lot of athletes – 2012 was the end point and no one much looked past that and on to 2013.”
Peacock looks back on his gold-medal-winning run as “not the best but good enough to win” and watched it back again recently partly to relive the eternity of time it took for the scoreboard to confirm him as Paralympic champion.
“At the end, I got a bit scared, nervous and tightened up and was worried that someone else might have sneaked in there,” he recalls. “It seemed like ages for the time to come up, but watching on TV the other day it was very quick.
“Normally when running I get very nervous and start feeling sick, worrying my muscles aren’t going to work. But in London I got in the blocks and felt good. I’m not sure if that was the home crowd effect.”
His highlight as much as winning was standing next to David Weir, both with gold medals around their necks. “For me, he’s the hero. He was the Paralympic Games. He’s so incredibly talented, and standing next to him was a very special moment for me. I only got one, he obviously got a few.”
There has been conjecture that Peacock could become a multi-event champion by adding the 200m to his repertoire. Despite reports to the contrary, he has no plans to do so this year partly because of his delayed start after surgery. He believes he will always be a 100m runner first and foremost: “I’m a 100m runner that might run some 200m races.”
It is all a far cry from when he was five and had his leg amputated following meningitis. One of his first memories was his return to school. A boy called Martin was the first to step forward and push him in his wheelchair: the pair have been best friends ever since and holidayed in France and Belgium with something of a drinking spree after the Paralympics.
“Because I was a bit fragile, I was allowed to stay inside at lunchtime,” he says, “and I’d sometimes get some girls to stay in with me. I was even a bit naughty then.”
His tales of his early disability tend to only bring funny anecdotes, such as a moment on the football field “at primary school when this girl tackled me, my leg came off and stayed with her under her foot and kept on going; you should have seen the look on her face. I think she screamed, bless her”.
His inability to play football, for fear of injury, is one of the few detrimental issues of being an athlete. He is a diehard Liverpool fan and his grandfather, John Roberts, played for the club as well as rivals Everton. But it is a sacrifice he is willing to take as he once more prepares to compete on home soil, whether he is recognised in the supermarket aisles or not.
Jonnie Peacock will be appearing at the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games on Sunday 28 July
Lyon coverage: When and where
* More4 will carry daily live coverage of the IPC World Championships from Lyon, while action will also be available on the Paralympic website (www.paralympic.org/events/lyon-2013/live-stream).
* Television coverage
Today: 2.15-7pm, More4
Including the finals of the men’s T12 800m (2.34pm), women’s T12 200m (5.53pm) and men’s T53 400m (6.39pm), plus highlights of the morning’s action, with Britain’s Aled Davies in the F42 Shot. Sixteen medals will be decided.
Tomorrow: 2.15-7.20pm, More4
Including the finals of the women’s T34 100m (3.10pm) – potentially featuring Hannah Cockroft, women’s T37 200m (5.01pm) and men’s T51 100m (5.27pm), plus highlights of the day’s action so far. Libby Clegg is involved in the T12 200m, while Mickey Bushell goes in the T53 400m. Twenty medals will be decided.
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