When Jo Pavey went to her first major championships in 1997, many of her opponents from yesterday’s final were still in nappies with countless others still in the early stages of childhood with 70% still enjoying the highs of primary school and being under the age of ten.
British rival Emelia Gorecka was 3, Ghana’s Juliana Saskat barely 1 and eventual winner Mercy Cherono aged 6, completely unaware she would 17 years later become Commonwealth champion after having fought off a women who reached the semi-final of that year’s world championships.
When the going got tough last night, Pavey got tougher, rather than sitting back on her laurels and congratulating herself on staying with the electric change of pace. The Englishwomen wanted more!
Not content with waiting to make a sprint finish for the line, Pavey took on the mantle of leader and mother figure of the pack, launching the group to a faster pace hoping it would pay off in the home strait. Leading with 200m to go it seemed Pavey had done enough to medal, 8 years on from her silver at Melbourne 2006.
Mercy Cherono, photo by Claus Andersen
Then as they came into the home strait, disaster seemingly struck; the Kenyans came, first 1 then 2 then 3, was the dream gone? Not in her eyes. Despite a lack of altitude and warm weather training, ten months on from giving birth, Pavey, showed the true grit of an athlete with 17 years of major competitions and plenty more filled with domestic battles. She showed the desire of a parent who wasn’t going to let her two children, especially her 4 year old son Jacob watching in the crowd, come all this way to see his mummy nearly win a medal.
As she stretched her legs one last time, roared on by the home crowd, Pavey found the speed of her former 1997 1500m world championship self to drive past Margaret Muriuki and head for bronze. Surely this was it? Not content, she went for Janet Kisa, 19 years her junior, looking to snatch silver, pushing her opponent to the line. It was almost hers, Jo Pavey missing out by just .06 of a second to the youngster.
Nevertheless she had done it, the medal was hers, and at 40, Jo Pavey had given the Kenyans a battle, shaking them up in a performance of true style. Ironically, the trio had finished in a 1-2-3 that seemed almost meant to be; 1st Mercy Cherono born 1991, 2nd Janet Kisa born 1992 and 3rd Joe Pavey Circa 1973: age is just a number.
Pavey’s post-race interview adhered her even further to the journalists who listened; as she laughed at the list of her achievements, and the craziness of them, to add an even greater perspective to what she had done: “I just think it’s the fact it’s funny that I’m forty now and I have 2 little kids, I haven’t been able to go to any high altitude training camps and I was still breast feeding at the start of April. So being a mum is main thing now, to be actually out there getting a medal almost seems funny, whereas when I was younger everything was running and I would think about it more.” She added “To be out there chasing a medal against the Kenyans just seems funny, to be honest.”
Next stop for Pavey will be the European Championships 10,000m and potentially even the 5,000m as well, where she will now be among the favourites to medal. While such as extensive schedule will be hard for any athlete to cope with, after last night’s performance it’s obvious she has the mental toughness to cope, and probably even the physical as well.
After that the future seems a bit more ambiguous, although Pavey insists she’s not quite ready to give up: “I’m not going to give up yet, I’m just going to keep going, I’m not going to rule out trying to qualify for the Olympics in Rio, but I’ll still be pretty old then.”
As for whom she hoped her win would inspire, she said: “Hopefully I can encourage some mums out there to get fit!”
Believe me Jo, it’s not just the mum’s you’re inspiring to get out there, it’s everyone!