The outdoor track-and-field season is still cranking into gear and already one British athlete has claimed the scalp of the running sensation who proved to be untouchable in 2008 – all the way from the start of the Grand Prix season in Europe to the Beijing Olympics and beyond. Not that very many people know about Jenny Meadows' notable achievement.
Perhaps it would be different if she had struck down the Lightning Bolt. Then again, Usain Bolt was not quite unbeatable last year. He lost a 100m race in Stockholm last July. Pamela Jelimo was utterly invincible at 800m, winning all 13 of the competitions she contested. The then 18-year-old Kenyan hit the European circuit with a stunning 1min 55.76sec world junior record run in the Fanny Blankers-Koen Games at Hengelo in the Netherlands, won Olympic gold in a Games record of 1:54.87 and clocked the third-fastest time in history at the Weltklasse meeting in Zurich – 1:54.01. She looked $1m and earned as much for being the one athlete to go through the Golden League season undefeated.
It came as something of a shock on the international scene, then, when Meadows found herself sprinting past the teenage phenomenon – now a 19-year-old – in the home straight of the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium at Rabat in Morocco on 24 May. The 5ft 1in Wigan and District Harrier, known as the Pocket Rocket, blasted to victory in the 800m at the Mohammed VI Meeting, clocking 2min 01.78sec. Jelimo led with 100m to go but faded to sixth in 2:02.46.
Two weeks on, with the outdoor season in Britain still to get into its stride, Meadows has yet to receive the recognition for having left the Kenyan wonder girl wilting in her wake. Sitting in the café at the Manchester Regional Arena, she laughs at the suggestion that her achievement could be described as "a bit like beating Bolt". "It is," the 28-year-old Wiganer says. "It's bizarre. I was in the race in Hengelo last year when Jelimo first came to Europe and came out with her 1:55. I was halfway down the field and ran 2:00.64, which for me was a good start to the season. I remember thinking: 'Wow, we've got another Maria Mutola here, another 800m runner who is going to be invincible.' She's young and she looks like she's going to be around for the rest of my athletics career, certainly.
"And then to run against her in Rabat, in my first race of this season, and to beat her...I think if I'd run 1:57 to beat her and she'd run 1:58 I could have given myself a little bit more credit. But because she was so far off what she was doing last summer I can't give myself much of a pat on the back.
"It feels nice to say I've beaten her, but at the same time you don't want to beat someone when they're not on top of their game. If anyone had ever told me I would beat her it's not how I imagined it would be."
Still, for the Pocket Rocket it has been a booster of a blast-off to this post-Olympic season. Last Monday night, at this year's Fanny Blankers-Koen Games in Hengelo, she very nearly shot to another major 800m victory, finishing a close third behind Maryam Jamal, the reigning 1500m world champion from Bahrain, and Yuliya Krevsun, an Olympic 800m finalist from the Ukraine.
"I lost the race more than anything," Meadows reflects. "I got myself boxed in and left myself too much to do in the last 100m. There was 0.17sec between us in the first three at the end. But it's the best I've run at this stage of the season. I just feel a different athlete. I've trained well. I just need to believe in myself more. If I could have been sitting here having beaten Jamal and Krevsun, as well as Jelimo, I would have been on top of the world. But I'm feeling confident. I know there are a lot of things I can work on."
The next test for Meadows is an 800m in Prague tomorrow, followed by a test of speed at 400m in Cardiff on Wednesday in the new inter-city SuperEight competition in Cardiff, in which she captains the Manchester team. Beyond that, she is likely to get the selection nod for the European Team Championships – the rebranded European Cup – at Leiria in Portugal the weekend after next. In Hengelo, Meadows finished 0.43sec ahead of Marilyn Okoro, but she feels the time has come for both women to push beyond their keen domestic rivalry.
"We've got to stop focusing on each other and on trying to be British No1," she says. "We've got to try to win some of these races and take some scalps and get to some major championship finals. We're both good enough."