How less than 11 seconds changed Jonnie Peacock's life

Saturday, 08 December 2012
Tom Degun ITG2It took less than 11 seconds for Jonnie Peacock to go from promising Paralympic athlete to sporting superstar.

Well, 10.90sec, to be precise.

That is the time it took the 19-year-old single-leg amputee from Cambridge to win 100 metres T44 final in what was the blue-ribbon event of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

I remember that evening on September 6 rather well as I was sat on the finish line at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford for the evening dubbed "Thriller Thursday".

In what was the Paralympic version of the Olympics' "Super Saturday", wheelchair racing stars Hannah Cockcroft and David Weir also took gold medals.

But it was Peacock's race that was extra special.

As well as the young British star, who had loaded expectation upon himself by breaking the world record in America three months earlier, there was defending champion Oscar Pistorius of South Africa on the start line, who was so popular in the Olympic Stadium that he may as well have been British.

Also in the mix was the reigning world champion Jerome Singleton of the United States, who like Pistorius, had a track record of coping with pressure on the big stage.

That was something Peacock lacked.

The drama increased as the 80,000 spectators began chanting "Pea-cock, Pea-cock, Pea-cock."

It was the only time an athlete's name was chanted in the Olympic Stadium during the entire London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, and Peacock even had to request that the crowd settle down so the race could get underway.

The tension then became unbearable as there was the most dramatic of false-starts.

But finally, the gun went, and the rest is history.

Peacock was a picture of pure ecstasy as he crossed the line with a peak audience of 6.3 million viewers tuning in – the biggest UK audience for live Paralympic sport ever.
 
Jonnie PeacockA peak audience of 6.3 million viewers tuned in to Jonnie Peacock’s 100m T44 final, the biggest UK audience for live Paralympic sport ever

But little did Peacock actually prepare for how such a short period of time could have such an impact on his future.

We spoke together at Surrey Sports Park in Guildford on the side-lines of the first ever ParalympicsGB Sports Fest.

Peacock was unsurprisingly the star-attraction and was mobbed throughout the day for hundreds of pictures and autographs. But the teenage sensation was still smiling as we spoke together.

"I didn't think that race would change my life this much," he told me with the surprise still clear in his voice.

"It has all been quite dramatic and it is quite weird with people giving me all this attention because I don't feel like deserve it that much. I feel like there are many more people in the world that have done better things than me.

"I actually feel bad taking the attention sometimes, even though I do enjoy it.

"But as a person, I don't think I have changed and I'm still finding time to do the fun things in life.

"I still see my friends, I got to Nandos and I go to the pub every now and again which is nice and it is good to help you feel normal."

Perhaps one of the few who can relate to Peacock's newfound celebrity is actually Pistorius.

The South African has long been a role model for the Brit and their stories are not overly dissimilar.
 
Peacock and PistoriusJonnie Peacock admits he hasn’t spoken to his friend Oscar Pistorius (R) since the London 2012 Paralympic Games

Pistorius had both legs amputated when he was 11 months old due to the absence of a fibula bone in both. Peacock has his right leg amputated below the knee aged five when he contracted meningitis, resulting in the disease killing the tissues in the leg.

After learning to use prosthetics, both Pistorius and Peacock showed huge talent for sport and now, both their phenomenal achievements and good looks have made them poster boys of the Paralympics.

Peacock though, admits he hasn't seen his South African friend for a while.

"Oscar sent me a quick direct message on Twitter shortly after the Paralympics but we haven't actually spoken since then," he explained. "But it will be really nice to talk to him in the future and I'm sure I will. He's a great guy and he's got time for every single person. He's been a big role model to me and I think he's a role model for a lot of other athletes out there so it is always great to speak to him."

Of the great 100m Paralympic race itself, where he actually beat Pistorius for the first time ever, Peacock remembers it vividly, particularly his name reverbarating around the giant Stadium.
 
"That was the first time I've heard someone chant my name and it was very unexpected," he said.

"But looking back now, it was a really good lesson for me in terms of my sporting career to have something big like that happen and to be able to deal with it. I'm kind of glad it happened with a home crowd at the Paralympics. It is probably never going to happen again so it was a once-in-a-life time opportunity that I'm glad I've experienced."

And when he crossed the line, he certainly remembers that feeling.

"It was relief, just massive relief because I knew I was fast enough to do it and it was just mentally holding it together," he said.

"So when I did cross the line, I shouted: 'Thank F***'! So sorry to those people who can lip-read! But it really was so surreal and so fantastic.

Jonnie PEJonnie Peacock became an instant celebrity after winning the 100m T44 final, blue-ribbon event of the London 2012 Paralympics

"Coming into the race, I really thought I could do it. I mean, I knew I was a real favourite after I broke the world record in America in a high class field a few month earlier and I knew if I could beat the Americans on their own turf, I would have a pretty good chance of winning, or at least getting a medal at London.

"So that American race was a big tester for me. When it went so well and I won it in a world record, I was so happy and confident.

"But I came back and then began to worry that I might turn up to the Games in different form. But after the heats where I ran the faster time, into a headwind, I really started to believe that I would do it."

Now that he is at the top of the pile, Peacock admits he is already looking at the men that will want to take his prize scalp in the coming years.

"I think there are threats out there for me," he said.

"Richard Browne, the guy who won the silver behind me at London 2012, has improved a lot in a short space of time like me so he is probably the biggest threat to me in the short term. Blake Leeper is another who I think is strong and to be honest,

"Oscar always has the potential to come back at people in the 100m because he is so talented. It is hard for him because he has to focus on his main event which is the 400m. To be honest, I hope I can take a bit of pressure off him in the 100m so he isn't always expected to win. And maybe if he focuses just on the 400m, he can go even faster."

RichardBrowneJonnie Peacock believes young American Richard Browne (left) could be his biggest threat going forward

One thing that could make Peacock's own path to further glory much easier is if single and double leg amputees are split up and not allowed to compete together. It was something that was discussed at London 2012, but Peacock admits any move to change the ruling would be a travesty.

"I want single and double leg amputees to run together because ultimately, if we split, that will lessen the competition and it won't be as tough," he said.

"If people say, it is too hard to win with mixed classes, then go train harder. Push yourself harder and if you still can't do, unfortunately you're just not as most talented guy there. I'm not saying that I'm the most talented guy and I'm not being arrogant but I'm just saying that there are other guys out there that have the potential to beat me and if they do, it means that they worked harder than me.

"I believe that the reason I did that in London was because I worked the hardest and had the best support team and support programme. You are not going to get anywhere just by turning up. Some people want that. Some people just want to race against three people. But I'd rather race against as many people as I can. So I want it to stay as it is."

As for himself, Peacock he admits the 200m is now an option of the road to Rio 2016.

"Watching some of the commentary at London 2012 was funny because one commentator said that I can't do the 200 metres because I don't have the right disability," Peacock explained.

"That's crap. I can do the 200 if I want to. For me, the reason I didn't at London was because my ankle has a few injuries so it would have been a big risk to do it. So we decided to leave it this year and focus solely on the 100. That obviously worked out quite well. So it is something on my mind and I'll give it a go in training but I think ultimately; I'm more a 100 metre runner. I think I'm a power guy and that's what I specialise in but we'll wait and see I guess."

JonniePeacockJonnie Peacock admits he may step up to 200 metres ahead of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

Peacock admits he is also looking forward to a future with Paula Dunn as the new UK Athletics Paralympic head coach. Dunn replaced Peter Eriksson - now UK Athletics Olympic head coach - shortly after the Paralympics. But she was instrumental in the ParalympicsGB athletics team success at London 2012 as Eriksson's apprentice - particularly in Peacock's case.

"Paula really set me up and was responsible for getting me that gold," Peacock said. "She set me up with my first coach and then set me up with my current coach Dan Phaff when it was clear I had the potential to win a medal in London. That was the best decision of my life.

"Obviously I'm grateful for what all my past coaches have done but Dan had the knowledge and experience to take me to the highest level. So I owe Paula a huge debt of thanks for that. I think she will be a great head coach."

One final think left to ask Peacock is if he fancies following Pistorius to compete at the Olympics.

"Obviously I run against able-bodied athletes in club competitions all the time but in the 100m, it would be very hard to see a blade-runner doing well in the Olympics purely because we are so disadvantaged at the start," he explained. "So I think it will be a while before we see that in the 100. I think it will have to be some kind of freak of nature that is on loads of drugs before that happens!"

So Peacock will perhaps have to happily make do with defending his Paralympic 100m title at Rio 2016, safe in the knowledge that he is the new poster boy of the Paralympic Movement.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames
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