This is the third preview that Stuart Weir has completed for @RunBlogRun. Stuart wrote this one on Jessie Knight, the British 400m hurdle champion. Jessie was. a school teacher, who put the school teaching on hold to pursue her Olympic dream.
Jessie Knight Olympian
Some athletes find an easy pathway into elite status whether via a sports scholarship in the US or British Athletics funding in the UK, perhaps when they are still teenagers. In the case of Jessie Knight, it has taken her to the age of 27 to make the first Olympics. She first came to my attention in 2019 when she won an indoor Grand Prix in which – on paper – she should have finished last. In the summer she was fractions of a second outside the Doha World Championship qualifying standard.
Having been a good college and club runner, Jessie gave up running in 2017, finding the demands of training alongside a full-time job as a primary (elementary) school teacher too exhausting.
She recalls her first conversation with Marina Armstrong in 2018 and her new coach, talking about a four-year plan. Jessie’s reaction, she told her mom and laughed “as if I am going to go to the Olympics”. Looking back now, she acknowledges: “Marina was spot on – as she always is. I think she had seen potential in me and she had coached me when I was about 13. Then we went our separate ways and I went to university and tried different events. I just feel that it’s meant to be, her and me. She always believed in me. Doha 2019 was a turning point for me when I missed out on the World Championship qualifying standard by 4 hundredths of a second, in my first full season with Marina. I thought that having only spent one year with her and bearing in mind that I was very unfit when I came back after a year off athletics. I thought I could build on this so I went into 2019 winter training really focused on making the Olympic team.
“I remember getting an email saying that I was on the long list of Olympic potentials and that really gave me a lift had made me think ‘I can be there. In 2020, I had a really good indoor season and that was a turning point for me. And here I am at the Olympics and very happy”.
Several boxes on Marina’s five-year plan have been ticked along the way. She was selected for the European Indoors in 2021, reaching the semi-finals in the 400 flat and gaining a relay medal as well as running in Diamond Leagues. She added another medal at the World relays. She admits that the transition to elite relay runner was a steep learning curve. “I’d never done a GB relay before the European Indoors and felt I was really thrown in the deep end. Because we were only there for three days and I had the individual event we didn’t get much relay practice. World Relays was a very big learning curve for me but I can assure you that I can now receive and give a baton without running out of my lane! You just think it grabs the baton and run but to be taught how to do it – there are a lot of technical things which can help the change-over process”. She also assured me the Team GB were having relay practices in Tokyo!
An injury in the early summer threatened to disrupt everything. She was not at her best in the GB Olympic trials but managed third place and got the discretionary selection place. She goes into the Games in a confident and realistic mood: “With the hurdles, anything can happen. There are three girls who are running, well, a world record pace. You need to set yourself ambitious but realistic targets or you’ll be disappointed all the time. I definitely think there’s a space in that final for me. I am physically and mentally ready and I feel that I am going to perform well. Yes, my goal is to get into the final and I think to be part of that final would just be amazing. I think the world record could be broken again in the final and it would be amazing to be in a race like that and perhaps I could get pulled around to a fast time myself. At the moment I am just focusing on the prelim. It is round by round. I will be aiming for a PB every race and to build my confidence”.
When Jessie became British Indoor Champion in 2019, she was a full-time teacher, which she later reduced to 60%. She has now given up teaching to be a full-time athlete: “I needed to get into high-quality races and I was selected for World Relays. I couldn’t keep saying to school I won’t be here for another two weeks. I was thinking ‘this isn’t fair on the school’, I can’t be in Dubai training while my class is without a teacher. That was the point where I realized I needed to take a break. The best thing for the children was to distance myself. I’m 27 and I have peaked quite late so I have a few years to give athletics a go and then I can go back to being a teacher. It’s great to have another career to fall back on and I love both. It was sad and not an easy decision but the school was amazing and said I can come back whenever I want”.
It has taken her to 27 to get to the Olympics and she is savoring every moment of it. You get the feeling she won’t let anyone down.
Previous posts on Jessie