Pavey defiant on goal of sixth Games

Hopping among bamboo sticks, getting splattered in paint and running on a treadmill in the garden shed aren't features of a normal Olympic campaign.

But these aren’t normal times and with her heart still set on attempting to qualify for a sixth Olympics in Tokyo when she will be 47, Jo Pavey left normal behind some time ago.

Long-distance running's supermum plans to seek a spot at next year’s postponed Olympics, where she would be the 11th track & field athlete to compete at six Games and the second Brit after Tessa Sanderson.

So while she seems sui generis, Pavey is just like the rest of us in the grip of Coronavirus. Setting a goal, dreaming a dream, getting knocked down and getting back up again.

“I know it's a big ask and I don’t want to come across as delusional. I know how old I am,” said the 46-year-old.

“There are a lot of young athletes running very well in this country but I was training really hard before the lockdown and aiming for the 10,000m trials in June.

“I've learned over the last few years that it’s fun not to set limitations.

“It’s a bit of a cliche but age is just a number and you can still go on to the track and try and hit those targets. You have to use your experience and you learn a few things over the years.

“I think keeping a goal in your mind is good for your health. It gives you an opportunity to rise to the challenge rather than dwelling on the negatives.

“If Tokyo doesn't happen, it doesn’t mean I won't be racing. What's kept me going all these years is the pure love of running."

For many athletes, training at home is a reality imposed on them by the COVID-19 pandemic. But ‘tucked away in Devon getting on with it’ is Pavey’s choice, a way of life she dearly loves.

She has done things differently ever her earliest days as an athlete, running up hills in Sydney and down volcanoes in Hawaii months before her World Championships debut in 1997.

Pavey's West Country enclave consists of husband Gavin, also her coach, and children Emily and Jacob, who often pursue their mum on their mountain bikes when she goes on daily hilly runs.

Where Diamond League and Continental Tour events stud the Power of 10 profiles of Pavey's fellow Olympic hopefuls, her last competitive outing was at the Exmouth Parkrun.

The prospect of another Olympics exerts a magnetic pull impossible to ignore.

“There are all sorts of challenges we can set ourselves but for me it’s always been the Olympics because it is just the pinnacle of being an athlete,” she says.

“I feel extremely fortunate to have already gone to five Games and the experiences I've had have been just amazing.

“I remember particularly my first Olympics in Sydney, looking up at the flame when I was on the start line and what an incredible feeling that was, thinking of all of the people who'd helped me.

“I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd do five. I remember thinking after Sydney 'right, that's it, if nothing else happens in my career I've achieved a childhood dream.'

“The Olympics have given me the opportunity to meet amazing people from different sports, feeling the camaraderie of Team GB and being lucky enough to experience a home Games in 2012.

"Team GB is so inclusive and when you're competing for them, your performance is all that matters. There’s no judgement.

“It's always been a honour to be a part of it and I'd love to be a part of it again.”

Pavey’s Olympic career has been turbulent to say the least. She tore a calf muscle three months before finishing fifth at Athens 2004 and suffered from food poisoning at Beijing 2008.

She continues to combine competing on the track and the road - planning a half-marathon in Northern Ireland last month before it was cancelled - in hope of writing a sixth chapter.

Pavey was nicknamed ‘Granny’ by her British team-mates at Rio in 2016. What, then, would be her nickname if she made it to Tokyo next year?

“I’m not sure,” she says. “'Ancient’ isn't very catchy.

“How about… dinosaur?”

Sportsbeat 2020