23 July 2016
Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium saw Jenny Meadows race competitively for the last time in a British vest, as the 35 year old brought the curtain down on a career which has spanned 28 years and seen triumphs on both the European and world stage.
Meadows has experienced the highs and lows of the sport, from bronze glory at the 2009 world championships to missing out on competing at a home-soil Olympics through injury, all of which she reflects on with a great sense of pride on the back of her retirement announcement last week.
A charismatic and familiar figurehead of many national teams, Meadows hangs up her spikes having represented Great Britain internationally on countless occasions, with her very first junior selection very much a treasured memory.
“Every time you get that call it’s such an amazing feeling, I never took it for granted at any point. I remember my first ever international was in 1998 in a junior team – to this day I still remember running round the living room like crazy after opening my selection letter. No matter what team it was, I appreciated every single opportunity”
In identifying a pinnacle moment of her career, Meadows casts her mind back to a memorable night in 2009 at Berlin’s Olympiastadion; a championships well remembered by many for Usain Bolt’s world record time of 9.58 in the 100m.
“I’d probably have to say my favourite memory would be winning world championship bronze in Berlin, just because I’d never won an international medal before as an individual. On top of that I think a lot of the national newspapers were just so pleased that I’d finally come through and showcased my potential – to hear a lot of anecdotes of how other people experienced that race was fantastic too, those stories will always stay with me.
“Obviously it was quite unexpected too – heading into the race, from my own point of view, it was almost a dream scenario that ‘if everything goes right on the day, medalling can happen’ - and that day was a magical moment where it did go right.”
Meadows was a British Olympian a year prior to her world bronze glory, placing sixth in her semi-final at Beijing’s Games in 2008, a result which seemingly set the cogs in motion for success in the years to come. 2010 saw her reach the podium at the world indoors, and secure bronze at the Europeans prior to being crowned European Indoor Champion in 2011, with the British and Diamond Race title over 800m also following in 2011’s outdoor season.
Seemingly in the form of her career on the eve of an Olympic year, the dogged determination to win a medal at a home Games seemed ready to prosper, before injury blighted her shot at a medal on home-soil, a pattern which repeated itself somewhat in the years following 2012.
“Obviously 2012 was my time to get an Olympic medal and it’s such a shame that the injury prevented that opportunity. In attempting to comeback in 2013, I suffered with injuries again and 2014 I suffered will illness quite a bit. But coming back in 2015 I felt good, I had a brilliant indoor season and ran four of the five fastest times in the world, so heading into the European indoor championships I felt like I could win my second title, but again I fell ill at the wrong time.”
On the back of yet another setback, it proved difficult for Meadows to rediscover the type of form she had shown glimpses of in the indoor season come the summer. She did enough however to earn another British call up for her sixth world championships in Beijing, a competition she admits could have been her last had it not been for the Olympic Games this year in Rio, a target which served as an incentive to continue competing, with the prospect of bowing out on the biggest stage of all too great an opportunity to not go after.
“I’d say since the indoor season of 2015 I’ve been struggling for motivation really; I’m still in good shape and I’ve run five Olympic qualifying times this year, but I just feel generally that my form in competitive races hasn’t translated from what I’ve seen myself in training.
“I decided after Beijing (world championships, 2015) that I’d give it one more year – I had broken two minutes twice that year in my indoor season so I thought ‘If everything goes perfectly for me I could run a 1:58, which could get me into an Olympic final’, so my main aim this year was to make the team for Rio – I felt like I couldn’t retire a year before an Olympic Games, but ultimately I knew my career would either end in Amsterdam or Rio.
“A day or so after the Olympic trials I was doing a few stretches and I felt my knee overstretch, so the whole week leading up to Amsterdam I wasn’t able to run, it was just one of those battles too far. In the semi-final at the Europeans my hamstring twisted a little, which the medical staff told me was a result of what had gone on with my knee.
“It was almost like it [a final shot at an Olympic Games] had been taken out of my hands, like fate had told me it wasn’t meant to be, but I’m really glad I gave it that extra year, I know if I’d have retired last year I would’ve looked at 2016 as ‘what if’ – and the really important thing for me was to not walk away from the sport with regrets. I know I gave it my all, which is why I can feel happy coming away from competing.
“My entire career I gave my best, I never shied away from a race or a challenge, so I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve achieved, but now it’s time for the younger generation to come through, we’ve got some fantastic prospects across the board, especially in women’s middle distance running, so I’m really excited to see what they can do.”
As strong backer for the younger members of the team, Meadows speaks of many athletes who have impressed her: “Laura Muir is someone I champion quite a lot, she’s an amazing person with such a strong mindsight and confidence – and it’s something you see throughout the whole team now.
“There are athletes like Elliot (Giles) and Dina (Asher-Smith) who are an absolute breath of fresh air; there’s Matt Hudson-Smith too, if he gets it right on the day he’s an absolutely phenomenal talent. Shelayna Oskan-Clarke finishing 5th last year in Beijing - again no-one would’ve expected that, but those types of performances seems to be more of a regularity now. There seems to be someone you can name in every discipline who has the ability to cause an upset, there’s definitely some future stars in the team.
“It may well be the case that some of these athletes won’t medal in Rio, but going forward to Tokyo (Olympics, 2020), I’m certain that plenty will.”
Looking ahead to life off the track, it’s apparent that Meadows won’t struggle to fill her time; there’s many irons in the fire for the 35 year old, with athletics very much still in the forefront of her mind.
“It’s an exciting time, for 28 years I’ve been so rigid in my own regime, but I still very much want to be involved in the sport - I’m half way through my master’s degree in Sports Marketing & Business Management which starts again in September. I’ve got lots of things on the horizon to keep myself busy.
“Trevor, my husband and coach, coaches three girls who run 800m, they’re around 2:01, 2:02 and 2:03 respectively so he’s keen for me to help those girls look to break two minutes and make the team over the coming years.
“As far as running myself goes, of course I’ll still run; it’s just nice to not have to run twice every day! It’s more relaxed in the sense that I can run when I want to, there’s no training program to adhere to which will be a change, but I’ll definitely keep myself pretty fit.”
You can follow Jenny’s journey via @JennyMeadows800