31st May 2011

Jackson On Course For London 2012

31 May 2011

Jo Jackson (coach: Andi Drake) produced an outstanding victory in an Olympic Games qualifying time of 1:31:50 at the UK 20km Race Walk Championship and Olympic test event in central London yesterday, while Ben Wears won the men’s UK title behind two top quality Chinese walkers.

Jackson dominated the women’s race in wet conditions following a morning of warm sunshine in the capital to finish just over a minute outside her lifetime best on the London 2012 course which encompasses Buckingham Palace, Constitution Hill and The Mall.

It was a superb performance by the Middlesbrough & Cleveland athlete coming less than 24 hours after she was crowned UK Inter-Counties champion and a week after finishing 12th at the European Race Walking Cup, the highest ever placing by a British athlete in that event.

The victory continues a great run of form for the Commonwealth champion and a remarkable turnaround for an athlete who was forced to take time out after suffering illness over Christmas and a hamstring injury while training in Australia at the start of the year.

Jackson, coached by Drake at UKA’s National Race Walking Centre in Leeds, broke away from a group of four leading women just before half way to leave in her wake the eventual runner-up and England Athletics champion, Adietyte Neringa of Lithuania (1:34:01), and third-place finisher Sylvia Korzeniowska, the French champion (1:35:24).

“I’m delighted because I didn’t know what to expect today,” said the 26-year old who has benefited in the past 12 months from altitude training at the UKA/London Marathon altitude training camp in Font Romeu, France. “It was certainly a faster time than I expected. I just wanted to get the ‘A’ qualifier out of the way and it’s good to go well under that.

“It’s fantastic to come out and test the course and get a feel for what the crowd will be like next year. It was great today so I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when they’re all out there cheering for me next year.

“On lap six I was thinking ‘Oh my god, I’m going past Buckingham Palace; what am I doing here?’ I was hoping the Queen would be in! It’s great to think I could be here in a year’s time.”

The men’s race was dominated by Chinese athletes currently based at St Mary’s College in Richmond, west London, but the UK title went to Wears, the first Briton home in seventh place overall, with Dan King (coach: Andi Drake) just behind him in eighth.

Wang Zhen and Li Jianbo set an impressive pace in the early stages and the pair had a lead of almost a minute by 8km. Wang eventually broke clear at halfway and extended his lead to finish in 1:24:24.

“This was a just a test for us and preparation for the World Championships in Daegu,” said Wang, the 19-year-old who won the recent IAAF Challenge event in Taicang.

Wang added that course landmarks such as Buckingham Palace were a reminder of home: “The course is good but the hill is quite tough and the ground is not level. It’s good to be racing here, though. It reminded me of Beijing when we go through Tiananmen Square.”

Li was second in 1:25:45 with US walker John Nunn third in 1:26:19.

Wears, who crossed the line in 1:30:32, was excited to have experienced the Olympic course.

“That was tough,” he joked. “I’m not sure I want to go to the Olympics now! Seriously though, I really enjoyed it, it was an experience and a half. For the first few laps I couldn’t get over where I was, going past the Palace and up and down The Mall.

“After that I found a zone and stuck at it. I didn’t tire until 3km to go when the heavens opened and I had to concentrate. The time’s not excellent but for me to be the winning Brit was the number one aim.

“I think the course is excellent, they couldn’t have chosen anywhere better in the whole country. It’s tough, but everyone’s got to do the same. Without a doubt this has given me extra incentive to be here next year.”

King finished in 1:30:40, with Alex Wright (coach: Andi Drake) claiming third spot in the UK championships in 1:31:42 in ninth overall.

The event also incorporated the UK junior 10km championships, and the two races were dominated by a pair of 17-year-old Britons with great futures – Jamie Higgins (coach: Andi Drake) and Heather Lewis (coach: Martin Bell) – both fresh from last weekend’s European Race Walking Cup in Portugal.

A former middle distance runner, Higgins came within one second of his lifetime best when clocking 47:29 after a commanding display in only his seventh ever race walk event.

“I was hoping to do between 46 and 47 minutes but under these conditions I’m pretty pleased with my time,” said the Leeds City athlete, who was 30th in Portugal on his international debut and has been race walking for less than a year under Drake’s guidance.

“I’ve gone close to my PB today which shows I’ve got consistency,” he added. “I’m hoping to get closer to 46 minutes by July and hopefully get the World Youth qualifying time of 45:30.

“It was a good course, although the hill at the far end was a little tough. But I think that shows a little lack of stamina on my part. Today’s been great promotion for our event.”

Pembrokeshire’s Lewis, 19th in the European Race Walking Cup, took the junior women’s title in a personal best of 51:46 after breaking clear of a group of three after 3km as she stuck to the heels of her training partner, Antonio Cirillo.

“I’m really pleased to win,” said Lewis, who is targeting the European Junior Championships this summer. “I knew I’d be in the top three but I just wanted to go out and see how I got on. I wanted to get under 51 minutes, which is the qualifying time, so I’m a little disappointed with the time, but I’ve still got one more chance to qualify.

“It was really good today, I loved it. It was such a good atmosphere and the course was nice and flat. Now I just want to get more PBs and keep improving.”