FEATURE: Matthew Rhodes in conversation with Jess Turner

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

“To this day, I’m still wanting to go further. I’m not finished yet. I’m still wanting to do even better…my dream and my goal for my career is to get into the Olympics and be the best athlete I can be.”

Like fellow Derbyshire Institute of Sport athletes Jess Piasecki and Katie Toft, 400m hurdler and 4x400m relay runner Jess Turner experienced a breakout year in 2019. Turner, from Derby, reached the semi-finals of the 400m hurdles at the World Championships in Doha where she secured a personal best time of 56.08 seconds. The 24 year-old almost came home from Doha with a medal after the Team GB 4x400m relay team finished in an agonising 4th position in the final of the event.

Despite the initial frustration of just missing out on her first ever international senior medal, Turner had much to be positive about from her 2019 and an encouraging 2020 was on the cards. The number one aim was to secure qualification for the Tokyo Olympics but, of course, world events have drastically changed every athlete’s priorities for what they can achieve this year.

In an exclusive interview with Derbyshire Media Company, the former European U23 silver medallist for the 400m hurdles explained in detail the complexities and challenges faced when attempting to train during strict lockdown measures, especially when the Tokyo Games were still scheduled to go ahead on time.

“It’s been so tough. I had such an amazing season last year. I got a massive PB in the hurdles, the chance to run in the relay. Just missed out on a medal in the relay final but it was still a massive boost up for my career…we were just wondering what was going on, it was quite a bizarre time. They didn’t actually announce the postponement of the Olympics until later on.

"So when lockdown happened, I train at Loughborough University, they had to completely close the whole campus and all the gyms. I was like, what do I do? I can’t get on any tracks and I can’t train without a track or a gym. I wasn’t able to see my physio when I need regular treatment. So I was kind of flipping out. I was really stressing out because the Olympics was still going to go ahead and I can’t just not train…luckily I received quite a lot of support from British Athletics.

"They provided me with some gym equipment and then I could make my garage into a gym…running around on an uneven football pitch was not ideal, there were a number of times where I almost rolled over on my ankle. It was super stressful!”

Turner also spoke in detail about the mental challenges posed following the announcement that the Tokyo Olympics had no choice but to be postponed till next year:

“Those first couple of weeks training during lockdown after the Olympics were postponed was really tough. It was really hard for me to find motivation to go out and train – it was like, what am I training for because the Olympics isn’t happening?

"All my races in Europe had been cancelled. I genuinely didn’t think I’d be racing at all this year but then after talking to my coaches, they made me realise that this is actually quite a good opportunity to work on those little things that you sometimes miss and forget when you’re in training on competition mode.

"I’ve now turned it all into a positive and I’ve just said to myself, well this is another year for myself to get fitter and stronger without the risk of injuring myself during competition. So I then really threw myself into the training on grass and also in the gym.”

It has been well documented that a lot of Olympic sports in particular were becoming frustrated with the amount of time it was taking to re-open public gyms, leisure centres and racing tracks that were vital for so many athletes to train properly.

During the time that these restrictions were still in place, athletes had to resort to some rather creative and improvisational measures to train as close to 100% as they could. For Jess, strange training methods had to be adapted to which would have seemed mad had she been told this was what she was going to have to be doing a year ago:

“In the first few weeks of lockdown, I had no hurdles for training. So I had to pretend to do some hurdle walkovers in the back garden! That was really difficult. Once I had access again to hurdles, I was using them on grass which meant my foot would sink into the ground after each jump.”

With the wait continuing for athletics tracks to re-open, Turner queried whether there was any way that she could use the running track at Ilkeston which is where her running club trained frequently. The running track at Ilkeston did not require indoor access to get onto the track so social distancing guidelines could be easily met over such an open area. However, nothing could be done until the government officially announced an easing of restrictions for these types of spaces.

“It was quite frustrating that they were not allowing stuff like that,” Turner commented.

Thankfully, such restrictions have been recently loosened and Jess now has proper training access once again. “It was so nice to finally get back on the track. It was so smooth, no bumps or anything!”

Turner has admitted though that competitive track racing looks pretty bleak for the rest of this year. A minimal amount of events are pencilled in and even then Turner, as well as a number of other athletes, may not even participate in these:

“A lot of my events abroad in Europe have been cancelled. That’s probably 90% of my racing…the National Championships are still going ahead but it’s been postponed until September. So Loughborough University are putting on a couple of closed door events to give at least some athletes the chance to get some racing in. I’m still very confused as to what I should do because I’m so used to racing.

"I think there’s probably two races I can do for the rest of this year. I’m not even sure if I’ll take part in the National Championships. I’m not sure if I’m physically or mentally there. Some athletes aren’t even thinking about competing this year; they’re just focusing solely on training. Next year could be pretty insane for the amount of competitions going on, so it could be really busy.”

Once something close to normality has resumed in athletics, Turner is very clear as to what her goals are and she is extremely driven and determined to achieve these:

“I’ve always said I want to make the Olympics. I want to go to as many Games as possible. I want to be there for the relay but I also want to be there individually for the 400m hurdles. I want to win international medals and I’m going to work as hard as I can to make that a reality.”

Jess certainly makes a statement of intent and ambition by confirming she’s searching for medals in both of her events:

“Yes, definitely in both disciplines. Whatever the competition: Commonwealth Games, European Championships – that’s the aim, to get a medal. That’s the goal, win international medals and be the best nationally in the 400m hurdles…and hopefully one day in the Olympics!”

To listen to the full interview with Jess Turner, you can click on the link below where you will be able to learn how Jess got into athletics, how Derbyshire Institute of Sport has helped her career and also how she deals with nerves and pressure before big events:

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