TW Interviews: Helen Jenkins

Freshly crowned World Champion Helen Jenkins reveals why race experience is invaluable



by Louise Steggals

helen jenkins
Credit: DELLY CARR/ITU

When you hear the word 'old' it's highly unlikely it conjures the image of an elite triathlete who has just qualified for the 2012 Olympics. But in the funny world of sport, 27-year-old Helen Jenkins finds herself labelled just that.

"It's interesting," she says with a laugh. "There are athletes doing really well who are really young. I mean Hollie Avil went to the Olympics as an 18-year-old. Alistair and Jonny [Brownlee] are young [23 and 21, respectively] and it's going to be interesting to see how much further they can go. It's taken me a while to get here because of some of the injuries I've had, so it's been a slow progression. But I keep improving."

She has certainly had a terrific season, even leaving aside her stunning win in Hyde Park. She took silver in the ITU World Series races in Kitzbühel and Madrid, and first place in the Clermont ITU Sprint Triathlon Pan American Cup. She also won, in grim conditions, the GE Strathclyde Park Sprint Triathlon in May, finishing a comfortable two minutes ahead of Lucy Hall, who's 19. What was that about age?

"Because I'd had my crash at Sydney and then didn't race the Ishigaki World Cup as planned [the cuts from her Sydney crash became infected], it was just getting another race in. I enjoyed the sprint distance: it was little bit different. I'm going to do the World Sprint Championships in Lausanne, too."

Can-do attitude

Talking to Jenkins and looking over her career to date you get the impression of a strong, consistent triathlete who, when faced with an obstacle simply gets on with the business of overcoming it.

"I wasn't good enough to be a swimmer and I wouldn't have been good enough to be a runner," she says candidly. "Triathlon was something I started doing and seemed to do well in. When you start to do well, it kind of hooks you in."

Her biggest year so far was 2008. She won the ITU World Championships and a place on GB's Olympic triathlon team. She was sixth out of the water in Beijing and seventh off the bike, but it wasn't to be her day. She finished 21st. "I just didn't have the legs today," she said afterwards.

Olympic qualification

You would think the Olympic experience would help her brush aside any nerves ahead of London 2012, but Jenkins doesn't feel the two Games are comparable.

"When I qualified [for Beijing] it was about three months before the games," she says. "To qualify a year out is very different. I can draw on the experiences. You learn how to handle nerves."

She says the only pressure will be whatever she puts on herself. "If you want success you've got to learn how to deal with the stuff that comes with it. You've got to have faith and confidence in your own abilities."

She finished fifth in the ITU series in 2009 and fourth last year, so she obviously has that confidence and it showed in her performance in the ITU World Championship Series race in Hyde Park in August.

Having won silver at Kitzbühel and Madrid, she needed a podium spot to secure her place on the team, but she went into the race with a cold and the knowledge that, with so much riding on the race, it was going to be a tough day. Or it should have been. Instead, Jenkins took off from T2 and that, really, was that. She set the pace on the run and she maintained it. She was on her own for the final two laps, so there was no one on her shoulder to challenge her to a sprint finish over the last hundred metres.

Race tactics

Canada's Paula Findlay has twice beaten Jenkins by seconds this year in just this manner. Findlay has a hip injury, but Hyde Park was a curious kind of race, with a particularly cagey bike section that may not have suited her had she been fully fit. 

"At Kitzbühel, Paula probably didn't do that much work on the bike. A lot of people chased myself and Sarah Haskins down, probably to the detriment of their own races, and Paula got pulled to the front. It's racing, it's what happens."

During the bike section in Hyde Park, Jenkins stayed close to teammate Kerry Lang, who was riding very well. "I was just like, follow Kerry and I'll be safe and then I hit the run and I thought, I'll just see how I can do," she said after the race.

Domestique debate

The tactic worked, so you'd think this might mean Jenkins is in favour of Team GB using a domestique to help her on the bike, but she would rather see the best three athletes take the places.

"Our funding comes from the lottery and UK Sport and their aim is medals, so our aim has to be medals. If you're not a medal chance you're not going to go to the Olympics for yourself. As an athlete I find that hard: I think the best three people should be going to the Olympics, but it doesn't always work that way."

British Triathlon Chief Executive Zara Hyde Peters has already said that using a domestique is an option. "It's a really important aspiration to win at least one medal," she said. "We will do that however we best can, using potentially the entire resources of the team at our disposal."

Jenkins can now begin to plan for the Olympics with husband and coach Marc, but she sees no reason to make big changes. "We'll try to stick with what we've done before; we know it works."

She's already looking further down the track. "I'll be 32 for Rio in 2016. That's not that old for an endurance athlete. I want to do the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. We'll see where it goes from there."

Helen Jenkins competes in the Speedo TriELITE Wetsuit. For more information go to speedo.co.uk


Previous article
TW Interviews: Jonny Brownlee
Next article
TW Interviews: Tom Lowe

Credit: DELLY CARR/ITU
TwitterStumbleUponFacebookDiggRedditGoogle

Discuss this article

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.