World Championships 2013: Jessica Judd faces track test as tough as her A-levels
The world's best will examine recent strides made by Britain's middle-distance rookie
Wednesday 14 August 2013
Thursday is a big day in more ways than one for Jessica Judd. At about seven o'clock UK time, she will line up in her heat of the 800 metres in Moscow. A little later her mother will drive to her school to pick up an envelope bearing Judd's A-level results.
The letter will stay unopened for a few days – her parents ordered not to look at her results until she returns from the first major championships of the 18-year-old's fledgling but already high-flying career.
The results she wants to see once back home are A, A, B, which would be sufficient to take up a place to read biochemistry at the University of Bath. But that is not currently her focus; the results have been put to the back of her mind as she takes on the world's best middle-distance runners.
"For the past year, my school work and my training have been totally separate," she said. "It's been a matter of doing all my classes in the day and then in the evening it's training. I'm able to separate the two. I don't think about my running when I'm doing my studies and I don't think about my studies when I'm running. Because of that, I can just switch off and so I don't think I'll be thinking about my results. I'll probably be too nervous about my race anyway."
She has described it as "either a really happy journey home or a really sad one", which could work on both levels bearing in mind her exam results and how things go in Russia.
The reality is that there should not be any World Championship expectation on the teenager, a virtual unknown in British sporting circles who has burst on to the scene in a big way in 2013, winning the European Team Championships and then the Diamond League in Birmingham, no mean feat in a discipline normally dominated by older, more experienced athletes.
Today's will be her first race since the trials, when she looked tired, unable to keep up with race winner Marilyn Okoro. It since transpires Judd had picked up a calf injury, which meant she was off her best in Birmingham and missed the Anniversary Games in London.
Such is her mindset, she sees the injury as a positive, although admitted she could not bear to watch the Anniversary Games after being denied a second chance to compete at the Olympic Stadium – the previous year she had failed to earn selection for the Olympic team.
"I'm back to full fitness now and things are going really well," she said. "In hindsight, it probably made me stronger. It probably means I've got here with 100 per cent fitness, so [missing the Anniversary Games] is something you just have to take on the chin and get on with it. It was probably for the best."
Few people at the start of the year expected Judd to feature at the World Championships, not least the athlete herself, who had made the European Juniors her No 1 target for 2013. But as the results improved, so did the stage she was competing on.
"It's been a surreal year: finishing my A levels, running in the Diamond League, having an injury and having to do rehab and then going to the Worlds," she said. As for her Moscow ambitions, she added: "As long as I go there and give 100 per cent and know that I couldn't have done any more, then I'll be really proud of myself. If I can look back and say I left nothing on the track then I'll be really happy.
"Anything can happen in the World Championships but it's my first time and I'm not going to put too much pressure on myself. I'm just going to go out there and enjoy it and try to run as well as I can. I want to get out of the heats and make it to the semi-finals, and the bigger bonus would be to make the final. I'm hoping I'll do myself proud."
The final is not beyond the realms of possibility. Her rivals are generally faster and more race-smart but Judd runs with a carefree attitude, or has done to date, which should hold her in good stead. The final might be a long shot but, on this season's form, it is not an impossibility. Should she get there, it would be worthy of an A star.
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