Jo Pavey's Olympic Journey

RW's contributing editor Jo Pavey on how it feels to cross the finish line in an Olympic final



by Jo Pavey

Jo Pavey Illustration
Illustration: Paul Oakley.

Crossing the finish line in an Olympic race is the culmination of years of preparation, and a huge moment in an athlete’s career. Then, while you are still out of breath, a microphone is thrust in your face for a live TV interview. But even if I've had a bad run I never get too emotional about it, and I'm always happy to speak as it’s part of my job.

Athletes then have to go through the mixed zone, usually located inside the stadium on the way back to the warm-up track. It starts with radio reporters then progresses through to the written press. At all stages journalists can question you, with the foreign ones occasionally asking questions that have got a bit lost in translation, such as: "How was your power struggle in running?”

Sometimes you are randomly selected for a drugs test. You sign a form and from that point on you are chaperoned by an anti-doping official. You have an hour to cool down before reporting to the testing area. They watch you cool down without letting you out of their sight. I have had officials jog along with me, which is kind of funny. But I know they are doing their best to root out the cheats, and this is an essential part of that process.

Once clear of the Olympic Park, my behaviour has depended on my personal circumstances. After Athens and Beijing, I had other races planned. In contrast, after my first Olympics in Sydney, I had no more races scheduled for the rest of the year, so I got straight out on the town. I remember being on public transport with commuters going to work the next morning having spent the night in lively Sydney bars. On one of these mornings, my husband and I came across a British distance runner asleep on a park bench – it was very out of character for this usually diligent athlete. He was pretty drunk but could just about walk, although not in a straight line, so we dragged him back to the village with us. The next day he was back to his normal self and didn't remember much – let’s just say he was ‘letting off steam’.

Returning home after an Olympic Games is a jolt back to reality ­– in a strange way there is relief that it's all over, as it the whole experience quite stressful as well as enjoyable. Looking back, what will stick with me most is the camaraderie of being part of a British Olympic team and the lasting friendships I’ve made. It also instills in you a dedication that is hard to replicate outside of sport. It ranks as one of my best achievements in my life – but starting a family is the most awesome.

Compared with the past three Olympics I feel very different going into these Games. It has been a huge struggle to make it – from medical problems associated with childbirth in 2009, followed by running for six months when breast feeding and suffering stress fractures in 2010 and 2011. Only in about March this year did I start to feel I was coming out the other side. So I’m proud to have made the team this time. As well as London 2012 being a home Games, it is also special knowing my son will be in the stadium watching me. Although that's probably wishful thinking, as Jacob will most likely be ignoring the action and playing with his Fireman Sam toys!

I will be 40 next year and I don't know if this will be my last Games. I still enjoy it and I am not ruling out an attempt at the 10,000m or marathon in 2016. This year combining Olympian status with my family life makes me feel a more complete person and extremely happy. One thing I do hope is that I can inspire not just young people, but other older mums like me.

Watch Jo compete in the Olympic womens 10,000m on Friday, August 3 at 21:25 and in round one of the 5000m on Tuesday, August 7.

Check out Pavey's competition in the Olympic women's 10,000m


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