Race-walker Johanna Jackson from New Marske taking steps to ensure Olympic joy

PUBLISHED: 12:20 09 May 2012 | UPDATED: 21:23 20 February 2013

Race-walker Johanna Jackson from New Marske taking steps to ensure Olympic joy

Race-walker Johanna Jackson from New Marske taking steps to ensure Olympic joy

Race-walker Johanna Jackson from New Marske is hoping to quick-step her way to gold, as Steve Gibbs reports

A walk across London on a summers day, down The Mall past St James Park with perfect views of Buckingham Palace, will be on the agenda for many tourists visiting the capital in Olympic year.

Commonwealth Games race-walking gold medallist Johanna Jackson, however, is unlikely to be enjoying a sightseeing tour, even though she has spent her whole life preparing for such a day.

Walking courses are never usually very exciting, she said. But to have it outside the Palace is going to create an amazing atmosphere. I cant imagine what its going to be like on the day. Being a free event as well, its going to boost the sport and hopefully get some interest in it.

Jo, who took Commonwealth gold when she covered the 20km course in just over one hour 34 minutes, has blazed a slightly unconventional trail to the top of her sport, and has become something of a role model for the next generation of race-walkers.

Initially competing in cross-country and middle-distance running, the 27-year-old from New Marske was encouraged to take up race-walking by coach John Paddick, who competed in the sport at the 1964 Olympics.
Id had some reasonable success at cross-country and road running, and I think that helped me, but I didnt expect or ever dream of getting to a Commonwealth Games, Jo said.

One of the coaches just said I reckon you could do a 20km and get in the Commonwealth Games team. I just said dont be crazy, I hadnt even done any training but I went out there and got the time straight off. It was very unexpected.

Paddicks judgment proved correct: she finished a creditable seventh in the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

But after leading from gun to tape in Delhi in 2010, and winning by over three minutes, Jos current confidence is not without foundation. I think Ive got the capabilities to win a medal in London.

To go out to the Commonwealth Games and win under a lot of pressure was a big learning curve for me. I was favourite for the gold medal, and to deal with that pressure was a fantastic experience.

It definitely gave me the boost of confidence to want to come away with more medals.

Such mental strength, and the experience of a 21st place finish in Beijing in 2008, will be invaluable this summer, when dealing with the added pressure of competing in London.

I wont be a rabbit in the headlights this time, not knowing whats going to happen, but I think it will be very different. You dont know how the pressure will affect you but well be out of the Olympic village until about two days before the race. Well probably go abroad and train to stay away from the media hype.

The sport is deceptively fast and demanding, both physically and mentally. All competitors must maintain contact with the ground for every step of the race one slip and youre disqualified. Anyone can foul but its just something youve got to accept. Youre pushing yourself to the limits so there are going to be times when you do fall foul of the rules.

Its not something that you are aware of doing, so I wouldnt call it cheating, but youre pushing yourself so far that its going to happen at some point.

Race-walking is growing in popularity and Jo welcomes the competition. Numbers are growing, and the junior women have really stepped it up this season, she said. Id like to think they do see me as a role model, and hopefully they will succeed in the future too. It will be great when they come into the senior ranks and can start challenging me.

Should she need a secret weapon to protect her status as British number one, it might come in the guise of mother and coach Maureen. She used to drag me around in the buggy to cross-country races so it was something I grew up with, Jo said. It all started with my older sister wanting to go to a running club, and then gradually all our family members got dragged into taking part. Eventually, when I was old enough to join the New Marske Harriers, I couldnt wait to start.

Jo is trying to balance an intensive training programme with her university studies and even preparations for her forthcoming wedding, scheduled for this December, and she added: Ive got some very helpful bridesmaids who have done a lot. My family and friends have really helped to take a lot of the pressure off me, but its quite a nice distraction as well. You cant be thinking about the Olympic Games 24 hours a day youd go crazy!

Do you know an exciting young sporting talent from the North East? Tell us their story by emailing neleditor@archant.co.uk.

Dont miss next months North East Life where we will profile another of the regions stars hoping for glory at the Olympic Games and preview the Olympic torch relay which will reach the North East in mid-June

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