‘I can do greatness’ – Russell has eyes on the prize at London 2017

February 1, 2017 in Interviews

“I have to prove to myself that I cannot be defeated.”

It’s a bold statement, but Janieve Russell is simply sharing her ambition to one day dominate the 400m hurdles.

Jamaica’s 2012 world junior champion took another step on that path last summer, finishing seventh in the Olympic final in Rio.

At 23, she is aiming to improve on that placing at this year’s World Athletics Championships in London.

“I’m trying my best to stay injury-free because I know if I can stay healthy, I can be great,” she told me.

“I want to create history for my country. I want Jamaican fans at home and abroad to expect good things from me. I want to be on the podium like my track idols.

“London will be very different to Rio but I’m very excited. I think it’ll be awesome.”

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The first glimpse of Russell’s potential came to light on her international debut at the 2008 Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) Games, where she won silver in the under-17 long jump.

“I found my switch to hurdles challenging but I love challenges”

A year later at the 2009 Games, she upgraded that to gold, as well as winning bronze in the high jump and golds in the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.

Her burgeoning talent was confirmed three years later at the 2012 World Junior Championships, where she won gold in what has become her main event, the 400m hurdles.

This saw her become only the second Jamaican woman to achieve this honour, the other being future Commonwealth gold medallist Kaliese Spencer.

Focus

However, the impact of competing in multiple events began to take its toll on Russell with a succession of injuries, and it was this that made her decide to focus on the hurdles.

“I noticed I was getting numerous injuries, more than what I am experiencing now,” explained the former pentathlete and heptathlete.

“There aren’t many programmes in Jamaica designed for multi-event athletes, they tend to focus on specifics things like sprints, hurdles and the quarter-mile.

“I found my switch to hurdles challenging but I love challenges. I feel it suits me. I can do greatness. I’m comfortable.”

Progress

Since committing to the hurdles, Russell has made steady progress, culminating in reaching the final in Rio.

She might not finished among the medals in Brazil, but she says the whole experience of being part of the Olympics was a huge learning process.

“In high school I was always watching the Games as an athlete but not thinking I would be there like them”

“As we know, before the rainbow there is always rain!” she laughed.

“I was very excited to be on the Jamaica team. Being the youngest in the finals in terms of experience, I took away the attitude of never giving up, no matter the situation or outcome – just keep pushing.

“The Olympics taught me you will have some people who will stay by your side, and some who will leave. But no matter the outcome, turn it into a positive.

“I have to prove to myself that I cannot be defeated.”

‘Dream come true’

Even now, though, she admits to still finding it slightly overwhelming to line up against some of her more high-profile rivals.

“In high school I was always watching the Games as an athlete but not thinking I would be there like them – I was always supporting those competing,” she said.

“When I started the 400m hurdles, I wanted to be as great as [2008 Olympic and 2009 world champion] Melanie Walker and even better. I wanted to achieve as much as [1996 Olympic champion] Deon Hemmings.

“All of this is a dream come true.”

Inspiration

Jamaica’s former Olympic gold medallist Walker and Omar McLeod, the current men’s Olympic 11om hurdles and 6om hurdles world indoor champion, have both shown Team Jamaica are capable of producing world-beaters in disciplines other than their usual strongholds in the shorter sprints.

“To come out on top in London in front of all those fans would truly be a blessing”

Russell said: “Melanie Walker has inspired me greatly because I know she is also multi-talented, she can do sprint hurdles and the 400m hurdles.

“To see someone with so much heart go out there year after year, to perform so well, pushes me to say ‘I can be great too’.

“I just have to believe in myself. As long as you are willing to work hard for something you want – which I am – as well as listening to my coach, I believe I can emulate what my compatriots have achieved in their events.”

London calling

Having already lived one dream in Rio, Russell’s sights are now set on the 2017 Worlds at the London Stadium, which of course hosted the 2012 Olympics track and field programme.

To step onto the podium, perhaps as champion, particularly in a city that’s home to so many Caribbean supporters, would be a huge achievement for her.

“To see all the preparations, dedication and faith I’ve put in over the last two years of being injured pay off, and to come out on top in London in front of all those fans would truly be a blessing.

“The preparations are going well. I am working towards small goals, building up to my season. Every race I run, I want to improve and to maintain my consistency.”

Russell surprised herself by reaching the final and finishing fifth at the 2015 Worlds in Beijing. Don’t bet against her being in the medals in London this summer.

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