At 40 years of age Jo Pavey’s story is one of perseverance at its finest level. A journey that began with a fifth place finish in a 1500m heats of the World championships, 17 years ago, and includes 4 Olympic finals since 2000, tonight culminated into a glorious European gold in her 33 major championship appearance. In doing so Pavey became the oldest ever European champion as she capped a glorious 2 weeks for the Devon-based athlete, who recently fought the Kenyans to claim Commonwealth bronze in Glasgow.
In that race, it was all about disbelief, seeing what she could do for herself, her family, and all those ‘jogging mum’s whom she hoped to inspire. Tonight it was all for Jo.
Sticking with the slow pace throughout, Pavey played a game of deception, choosing to continuously pull out to lane 2 and bide her time within the middle of the pack. Not putting her cards on the table early, the Devon based athlete appeared initially to maybe lacking some fitness following her endeavours in Scotland, but it was not the case. After managing to stay with the huge main pack of around 15 runners as the trudged through 5k in 16.26, Pavey showed her true grit to go with the leading pack of 5 athletes as they broke away with 3 laps to go.
Despite the extra competition in her legs compared to her other European rivals, for whom Zurich is the pinnacle of their season; Pavey showed no signs of letting up. She placed herself ominously behind the medal positions and leader France’s Clemence Calvin, ready to strike in the later stages of the race.
Calvin, who has run 20 seconds faster than Pavey this season, made the first break for home, in an act that reduced 5 to 4, but she was not to have it her own way. With 800m left Pavey moved into 3rd as she began to run with a further sense of power against her less experienced competitors, soon that position improved even further as she went one better with 600m to go, she was now the French woman’s biggest rival and threat, ready to pounce.
As they headed towards the bell Pavey went for home streaking past Calvin and towards the eternal glory that would come with a first major gold. Learning her lesson from Glasgow, she cruised ahead of Calvin without applying the finishing touches too early.
200m to go she stayed strong without kicking, but still there was no response from the French 24 year-old; could it be that at the age of 40, just 11 months after giving birth, one of Britain’s most consistent, reliable, wonderful and exceptional distance runners, would finally achieve a lifetime goal and become queen of the tack for the first time?
As the nervous tension filled every corner of the stadium, sofa in the UK and mind of the other British athletes in the village, our Jo gritted her teeth and left nothing on the track. As she reproduced some of that brilliant 1500m speed which was missing all those years ago in that 1997 world championship heat in Athens, Pavey showed no signs of letting go of her crowning glory as she capped a superb 66 second, final lap in style.
The line approached and there was no stopping for our golden girl, the super mum just kept going and going, to eventually blow away her closest rival by over 20 metres. As she crossed the line, Pavey romantically showed her inexperience of winning as she momentarily raised her hands in celebration before almost instantly dropping them back down and regaining her composure, before her first ever real victory lap.
She may have had to wait a long time for this, but in many ways that’s what makes it so special. There’s definitely something more bittersweet about knowing how many near misses and minor medals this woman has had before this evening’s moment.
While she may have finally achieved one of her goals, the 40 year-old is unlikely to stop just yet, with the 5,000m a further opportunity to write herself into the record books, as if she wasn’t already memorable enough.
I wonder how many athletes will think twice now, when they consider retiring just because they are in their thirties? After all like Jo showed championship glory could well be just around the corner or even further ahead in time!