Race walking: Leeds champion Jackson ready for double date INTERVIEW

Johanna Jackson. PIC: James Hardisty

Johanna Jackson. PIC: James Hardisty

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wedding BELLS and medals – it’s fair to say 2012 promises to be a mega year for Leeds’ Commonwealth Games race-walking champion Johanna Jackson.

But despite the lure of a London 2012 gold it is her own “big day” on December 1 that means most – after all, at 26, Jackson’s young enough to crack the Olympics at Rio 2016!

Jackson, in actual fact, remains on course to enjoy a dream conclusion to both big days next year – the Leeds Met student engaged to long-term partner Dave Atkinson of Redcar and also the current Commonwealth Games race-walking champion after enjoying her career high in China last year.

And, while she stresses that a top-eight finish would be satisfactory come the London Games there is little doubt the north east- born athlete is one of Britain’s brightest hopes for a medal when the Games finally come around in 405 days’ time.

After only taking up the sport in 2002, Jackson has made giant strides as a race-walker – qualifying for the 2006 Commonwealth Games in her first competitive race and then taking gold in the 20km four years later.

The ultimate gold may yet arrive next year but ask Jackson about her 2012 big day and there’s another one involved – her eagerly-awaited wedding which was moved back from the autumn until December so it didn’t come too soon after the London Games!

“It was going to be September 2012 but it’s now going to be December 1, 2012,” said Jackson.

“So it is still in 2012 but this gives me a bit more time to plan it – otherwise I think it could all be a bit stressful!

“We are going to get married in my dad’s church which is in New Marske.”

Not that the prospect of London 2012 is not equally exciting – Jackson admitting that not a day goes by when she’s not thinking about the Olympics.

“It’s always on my mind,” she said. “And I’ve just got my qualifying time as well, so it is obviously a bit more like reality now.

“We’ve just had the dress rehearsal as well with a race in London. My aim for London is the top eight but if I found myself in a medal position then I won’t complain!

“But there’s still plenty of time for me for I’m relatively young.

“I’ve still got plenty of chances as it will come around again four years later.”

And who’s to say just what progress Jackson will have made in that time – the Leeds student having taken the art of race-walking by storm in the space of nine years.

Initially a runner from 800m upwards and specialising in cross-country, Jackson turned her hand to race-walking merely to try something different and has not looked back since – principally moving to Leeds University to join coaching ace Andi Drake at his national centre for the sport – based amidst the impressive Carnegie grounds in Headingley.

“I think I’ve made quite good progress quite fast really,” admitted Jackson, whose main target this year is the World Championships in Korea in August.

“When I first started out in 2002 I was just doing a couple of sessions a week but not really taking it very seriously.

“Then I had my first 20k in 2005 and from the first one I qualified for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and that was my first big race.

“Even then I was still doing a lot of running – I was still more of a runner really – but I went to the Commonwealths and finished seventh.

“After that I decided to take it more seriously so I started giving up the running a bit and became more committed to the race-walking.

“When I was running at New Marske I was better at cross-country – that was my passion at uni but I did all track races from 800 metres to 5km.”

Explaining her move to Leeds Jackson said: “the UK national race walking centre got set up here and so it was an obvious choice to come and get some training.

“I’d always done stuff on my own before so this was a great opportunity and it also gave me the chance to go back to university and finish my studies.

Chance

“I went to Teesside Uni before and I tried to do a computer animation course but I found that it didn’t really work! Not trying to be an athlete as well!

“I didn’t finish my degree off but here I have got a chance to mix my studies with being an athlete – doing my sports performance course as well.

“It’s not too bad juggling it all and a lot of training partners are on the same course so we can help each other out.

“I normally come up during the week so four days a week I will be here and the rest of the time I am back home.”

so far the recipe is working a treat with Jackson enjoying her career high when crowned Commonwealth Games gold medallist in Delhi last year.

That came last October and Jackson admits it was some feeling.

“It seems so long ago now!” said the gold medal star. “But it was an amazing experience to go to India and to win the gold.

“I perhaps wasn’t used to the pressure on me then because I went out there as gold medal favourite and I had not experienced that before.

“My family all came out as well and it was good to have them all there supporting me.”

As they will be once more in London next summer – though when push comes to shove at this stage it is Jackson’s own future family that matters just that little bit more.

Asked if she’d prefer perfection on race-walking final day or on December 1 Jackson admitted: “I’d have to go for the wedding.

“I can try again for the gold medal in four years’ time!”

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