19 July 2015Jonnie seeks to maintain status as fastest single-leg amputee sprinter in the world
There is a popular sketch made famous by the television duo Ant and Dec where the two presenters hide behind a photo booth camera only to jump out and surprise their unsuspecting victim just as they are about to have their picture taken.
On a glorious summer’s day at a school in Derby, Jonnie Peacock has just been giving young pupils a similar shock treatment by hiding inside in a custom-built audio booth at a Sainsbury’s school sports event and bursting out to their surprise. Any fears that the London 2012 Paralympics star may not be as immediately recognisable as his Geordie counterparts are banished by the whoops and obligatory requests for ‘selfies’ that follow.
He exudes charisma. As Paralympic ambassadors go Peacock, with his friendly demeanour, is ideal. But to remain at the forefront of the British Paralympic movement, he cannot live off past glories, seeking to maintain his status as the fastest single'leg amputee sprinter in the world.
It was with such a goal in mind that, having made his name winning gold at London 2012, he moved his base to join arguably the fastest training group in the country. Spearheaded by Adam Gemili, the only British runner to break 10sec this season, and James Dasaolu, the European 100m champion, Steve Fudge’s group in Loughborough is the pinnacle of British sprinting. Of its 10 members, Peacock is the only Paralympian.
“I love training with the fastest guys,” he says. “I’m not going to shy away from them because they are a little bit faster than me. I’ve got to be the fastest that I can be so to be a part of a coaching group with the fastest guys is great.
Peacock surprised pupils at a school in Derby
“There’s not really much difference in terms of my training and their training. You adapt maybe a couple of things that you can’t quite do but everything else is the same. You’re not going to get fast by staying away from the good stuff. It’s a good situation to learn in under pressure.”
It would be a stretch to say that Peacock, 23, is struggling under the pressure of retaining his T44 100 metres title at the IPC World Championships this year, but concerns have begun to creep in over the past 12 months or so. A niggling back problem at the start of last year meant he missed months of training and endured a delayed opening to the season.
The result was three defeats in three races against his American arch rival Richard Browne and an admission that “things were a little bit all over the place”.
This year has gone more to plan with a steady series of early-season races during which he broke 11sec almost a month earlier than in any other season. In his most recent appearance at the British Championships he finished last in his 100m heat, a position that was unsurprisingly familiar given it was his sixth race against non-disabled sprinters in six competitive outings this season.
With a personal best of 10.84sec, it must surely be difficult to accept that he is almost certain not to win any of his races against non-disabled athletes. “It’s a different way at looking at things,” he says. “This year we decided to race against a lot of able-bodied guys to challenge me. Obviously some races I’ll be closer than others, it just depends on the competition.
“My job is to run 100m so my time is going to be the same regardless of who I’m racing against. If there’s a guy around me then I’m going to do my best to take them. Ideally I’d like to win the race but realistically that’s not always going to happen.”
Before the IPC World Championships in Doha in October, a first chance to take on his Paralympic contemporaries comes at the scene of his greatest triumph in London for the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games this Sunday.
Eager to turn the tables on Browne at the first available opportunity, Peacock nonetheless insists that he will perform when it matters at the World Championships regardless of the result at London’s Olympic Stadium. “The London track can be super fast so hopefully we can have some fun. It’s a different race mentally when I race these Paralympic guys so I have a feeling it will bring out something extra in me. The most important thing is World Championships gold and I feel like I have that switch in me that when it comes to the major events I can just flip it.
“I will take it that extra bit more seriously. Elite athletes like Christine Ohuruogu have the ability to do that.”
The Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games takes place at the former Olympic Stadium in London, July 24-26. Tickets via britishathletics.org.uk