15 December 2017onnie Peacock loved Strictly but sprinting remains his first love... 'I'm still an athlete, not a celebrity'
It was on a train to London in October that Jonnie Peacock realised he was getting a little more attention than usual.
He had just started out on Strictly Come Dancing and was heading for another eight-hour practice session when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye.
‘I noticed this phone was creeping up the side of a seat five rows in front of me,’ he says. ‘Just floating there, pointing in my direction, ever so slyly.
I’m sat there, like, “OK, this is a bit weird”. Another one was a couple of weeks ago when I saw this person taking a selfie and then realised they were snapping me over their shoulder.
‘It’s pretty surreal, really. But I was thinking about it and I reckon it is actually pretty cool because you never think you will get to that point where people are that interested in you.’
But they are. And it’s all sorts of people. It’s the people who watched him win back-to-back Paralympic 100 metres titles in London and Rio de Janeiro in the T44, as well as a second world gold in London last summer.
It’s the millions more who watched him become the first Paralympian to appear on Strictly and it’s the folk who will watch Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday, for which he is one of 12 on the shortlist.
With all that, he has become the figurehead of the Paralympic movement, its first athlete since Oscar Pistorius to make a step away from the niche and towards a mainstream audience.
But he is also a 24-year-old who, outwardly at least, appears to be at a crossroads.
With a year off planned for 2018, and with every major medal squeezed into two drawers next to his bed, it is necessary to ask if he is now an athlete or is he a celebrity following the shows in which he partnered Oti Mabuse?
His answer is both fascinating and encouraging.
‘You know, I actually did my first training session post-Strictly recently,’ he says.
‘My whole life has been committed to athletics and suddenly, a couple of weeks ago, I thought, “I’ve done nothing but dancing for a couple of months”. I think I gained about seven kilos, so I just wanted to get to the indoor track and see how I felt.
‘Anyway, I started doing some 50m sprints, and going straight to the next one. It’s a session where you push yourself until you’re a mess. I did six and it was hurting, which is generally an acceptable time to walk away.
‘But I was like, “I want to hurt myself some more”, so I went to the outdoor track and I was the only one there.
‘It was cold. I did two 120m sprints. I thought I might be sick. Then I did another.
‘After that, I was dead on the floor and I was thinking it was the first time I had beat myself up like that without an event to train for.
‘Normally I have a reason to be killing myself, but with no competitions for a year, I had no reason. Strangely, while I was lying there knackered, I was loving it. I loved how it felt and you don’t do that unless it’s part of you.
‘Look, I’m still an athlete before anything else, have no doubt about that.’
Or at least he has been until now and will be again in 2019. The plan behind the year off was drawn up three seasons ago and the intention is to recover in 2018, when there are no Olympic or world titles to be won.
‘I want to have a few holidays, maybe drive around France,’ he says. ‘Instead of training six days a week I will do two or three, and sport will be No 3 behind family and friends, instead of first.
‘London 2017, winning at the World Championships in front of a home crowd, was a big ambition ticked, and the timing is perfect for a break before having a big go at 2019.’
When he returns, the goal is a big one. After a career of winning gold medals, the one thing he is yet to do is break the T44 world record, which stands at 10.61 seconds, set by America’s Richard Browne.
‘I want that,’ Peacock says. ‘It’s funny, in my heat in London I ran my PB of 10.64 while slowing up at 60m with no tailwind.
‘I worked out that if I pushed for the whole 100 with a decent wind, it would have been sub 10.5, possibly even low 10.4s. I do really want to leave a good time behind and that heat put a thought in me.’
Before all that, he has an appointment at Sports Personality of the Year, a foray on to the Strictly Tour and then an assortment of holidays.
It’ll be a change of scenery, pace and priorities. But thankfully it will also only be temporary.