Meadows hopes to flower in London

The 800m runner from Wigan sees the World Championships as a step on the road to an Olympic medal
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The Independent Online

Jenny Meadows and Trevor Painter arrive on the "b" of bang on time for our appointment at a Manchester coffee shop, just round the corner from the Granada Television Studios and the set of Coronation Street. Meadows, it transpires, has been doing some filming, being followed by a camera crew on her Friday- morning training run.

"It's for something called Wigan Greenheart," she says. "It's a projectto promote Wigan as a place to come and live and set up business. There's about 70 per cent green-belt land in the Wigan borough. There's loads of green around where we live. Literally right out of our door there's the canal to run alongside – the Leeds to Liverpool canal."

As the manager of the town's football club, Roberto Martinez, would testify, there is a good deal more to Wigan than its stereotypical image as a northern outpost of pies, the road to the non-existent pier, George Formby, rugby league and Uncle Joe's Mint Balls. As well as there being more greenery than grime, there is the homespun success story of Meadows, the 5ft 1in "Pocket Rocket" who mixes it with the giantsof the women's 800 metres.

A good six inches shorter than most of her rivals in the two-lap event – and a stark, slender contrast to the muscular figure of Caster Semenya, the world champion from South Africa – the 30-year-old Wiganer has stood alongside the best on the podium in the past four international championships she has contested. She won bronze at the 2009 World Championships, silver at the 2010 World Indoor Championships, bronze at the European Championships last summer and silver at the European Indoor Championships in Paris in March.

Meadows' emergence in the 800m, a decade on from a gold medal as a 4x400m runner at the 2000 World Junior Championships in Santiago, bears testimony not just to her talent and character but also to the partnership she has forged with Painter. They have been a couple for 14 years and Painter – a 47.08sec 400m runner, former training partner of the 1992 Olympic 400m finalist David Grindley and one-time flying wing with Wigan RLFC's junior team – has been Meadows' coach since the late 1990s. They married in 2006.

Their relationship remains a happy one, though they have been sleeping in separate beds since March. Meadows spends every night in an oxygen-regulating tent which mimics the effects of high altitude. "I've been feeling the benefits of it, physically and psychologically too," she says.

"I tried sleeping in it," Painter says, "but I woke up one night and the condensation was ridiculous."

"I quite like having my own space," his wife interjects. "The dog sleeps in my place with you now, doesn't he, Trevor?"

With Harvey, a four-year-old mini-schnauzer, to keep him company, it looks like being a dog's life for Painter for some while yet. "It's probably something I'll continue to do until after 2012," his wife says. "Obviouslythe likes of the Kenyans live at high altitude. They've got a huge advantage and hopefully I'm just narrowing that."

So what about the advantages of living and training in Wigan? "I just think it's typical northern grit," Meadows says. "It keeps your feet on the ground. When I was out running this morning someone said, 'You're going to have to run faster than that if you're going to beat that Russian.' "

"Wigan's had a bad press for a number of years," Painter says. "We keep being asked to move to Lough-borough, and we just say, 'Why do we want to move away from Wigan?' There's lots of fantastic trails to run around. There's the track at Robin Park and we're only 30 minutes away from the indoor track in Manchester. Jennifer does her strength and conditioning work with Wigan Warriors, with Mark Bitcon, who used to work with the Scotland rugby union team. And we've got a fantastic physio team, Rob Harris and Geoff Ross. There's no real reason to move away."

It is a tight-knit, highly professionaltraining environment similar to the one in which Jessica Ennis flourishesacross the Pennines in Sheffield. Like the heptathlete, Meadows is working towards the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in August.

With impressive 800m wins in Shanghai and Hengelo, her season gathers momentum this week with two races on the IAAF Diamond League circuit.

In Paris on Friday, Semenya and "that Russian", the world indoor and European outdoor champion Mariya Savinova, will be in the field. Then there is the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix on Sunday.

"I think that, psychologically, I need to get a medal in Daegu," Meadows says, "just to let myself know I've got a chance of a medal in London next year. If I don't get one, I think I'll start to panic. I always think of myself as 'just little Jenny Meadows from Wigan'. But then I quite like that image. I see myself as the little fighter, as the underdog.

"My dad always used to say to me, 'If only you were 5ft 4in, you'd be the world champion.' But I think I've done all right with my 5ft 1in."

Jenny Meadows will compete in the Aviva Series this summer. For information, go to uka.org.uk/aviva-series or call 08000 556 056.

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