When Jessica Andrews headed down to the track for Highgate Harriers Night of 10,000m PBs she scarcely could have imagined the scenes that would follow later that evening. Based outside of the country, with a PB of 33:21.53, the former Aldershot Farnham & District athlete was well and truly under the radar. While pre-race previews (including my own) focused on the chances of European Champion Jo Pavey and those already holding the qualifying standard, Andrews name was barely even mentioned, despite a number of impressive performances on the cross country scene.
Yet, exactly 31 minutes and 58 seconds after the starters gun had exploded for the biggest race of her career, the Spain-based runner had shocked onlookers and journalists alike, crossing the line in 1st place with her hands raised in adulation to become the British champion and more importantly an Olympian.
While a few began to scour Power of 10 to find out her ‘stats’, most applauded her fantastic efforts. Continuing to hold up her hands for the photographers, Andrews wore a grin that represented a combination of delight and disbelief. Not only had she won the race, but she had done it comfortably, defeating 2009 world champion Linet Masai in the process.
“I’m am just so happy, I have no words to describe how happy I am right now.” she told RunBlogRun shortly afterwards. “I came into the race with nothing to lose today. I knew I was in great shape and training was going crazy good” she added.
If ever there was a night for Andrews to make a her name for herself on the British track and field scene, it was last night. As the cheering crowds flooded to Hampstead Heath and into lane three of the Parliament Hill track to roar on the athletes and see who could convert their Olympic dreams into Olympic realities, Andrews made light of her underdog status.
Bidding her time in the race, the runner initially snuck tightly within the British chasing pack of herself, Beth Potter, Kate Avery and Pavey as Masai pushed the pace at the front of the field in the opening stages. Soon after 6k, Pavey, who had been suffering with a chest infection dropped off, leaving the three athletes to battle it out for two places.
With the pressure on and the pace beginning to fluctuate, Andrews’ challenge strengthened. Knowing her rivals need only to finish in the top-two to qualify, she made her decisive break, pushing up the pace and driving away from them, turning her focus on Masai with four laps to go.
“I saw four laps to go and I thought ‘ah, it’s only four laps to go and still feel good, just go for it, what can go wrong'” she said.
After closing the gap almost instantly, she stuck to the heels of the Kenyan for 800m, before asserting her authority and pushing to the front.
As the bell rang the gap remained small, then as they hit the back straight marquee, Andrews unleashed an incredible surge to go away from her rival and leave her for dead. Arms pumping, teeth gritting, the gap got bigger and her achievement got greater, bounding down the home straight to raptors applause, against the odds she had done it.
Speaking on the emotions of the last lap she told RBR “I was terrified, I thought ‘wow, I’ve made a point, I’m here, I’m in an amazing position I need to not lose this now I need to just keep going and I just kind of just ran as if everyone was behind me and thought, just get to the end.”
Having got there in the end, Andrews will now head into the unknown once more as prepares for Rio 2016 where she will be joined by Potter, after the Scotswoman pulled away from Avery in the home straight, who will now have to wait and see if she if awarded the final discretionary place.
Before Brazil, the 23 year-old must now decide where to race as part of her pre-competition build-up, having admittedly only planned up to this race. It will not be the only planning she has to do either, with her wedding to Irish Pro-cyclist Dan Martin, who will also be competing in Rio also scheduled for this year.
Though a few cynics were quick to question such a brilliant performance, Andrews’ pedigree is far greater than they might suggest, as shown by her New Balance kit sponsorship. A winner of Southern Cross Country championships in 2014, finishing fifth in the national championships in the same year, after a low key 2015, she was a brilliant second at the Cross Internacional Zornotza finishing narrowly behind World silver medalist Mercy Cherono. Either way, it’s unlikely she’ll ever be overlooked in the future.
Whatever issues continue to face the world of athletics in this current climate, it’s moments like this that make any fanatic’s commitment to the cause seem worthwhile. No matter how much you think you can predict the outcome of an event, someone or something will always surprise you. Usually for the better.