Jemma Reekie is the second preview interview written by Stuart Weir on the athletes of Team GB. Stuart will be covering the World Indoor Champs remotely from Oxford, England, due to a recent surgery that he had.

Jemma Reekie is in one of the most competitive events in the entire World Indoor Champs this weekend, March 1-3, 2024, at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland. 

 

Jemma Reekie – ready for Glasgow

In August 2021, when Jemma Reekie ran 1:56.90 in the Tokyo Olympic 800m final, missing the bronze medal by 0.09 seconds, aged 22, she seemed to have the world at her feet.  Since then, everything seems to have been a struggle, but now she looks to have turned a corner. With 1:58.24 in the GB Indoor Championships earlier this month, she recorded the second-fastest time in the world this year.

Jemma Reekie takes the 800m at 2024 Microplus UK Athletics Indoor, photo by Getty Images for UK Athletics.

Speaking to a group of UK athletics writers last week, she shared what a dark place she had been in a year ago:

“This time last year, I was terrified. I was broken as an athlete. And I had actually written down everything that I was struggling with on my laptop. And one of them was I was never gonna be as good as I used to be. And I was convinced that I would never be the same.  I think I was just frazzled mentally, and after having a glandular fever, I’d never let myself recover from it. And I didn’t appreciate what it would do to my body and things like that. And I think everyone responds so differently to things like that. And I actually had glandular fever* when I was a child, and I’d been bed-bound for weeks and months, and I’ve missed loads of school, and I was so scared that that was the way it was going to be, and I think it took a lot out of me. I know some people who have gone through glandular fever and been back running well in a few months, but I just hadn’t taken account of myself as an individual. I was just like, well, not wanting to make an excuse almost. I was thinking like, ‘Well if these people have gotten over it and been fine, why am I not fine? Is it in my head?’ We all just need to be treated as individuals and, like, give ourselves time. It’s so weird because when I look back, I realize I was so broken mentally as an athlete this time last year. but not one day did I wake up and think I couldn’t do it anymore. I just believed. I’ve always thought I’m like almost born to do it. Never once did I wake up and think I couldn’t do it, or there were times that I thought I was never gonna be as good. But I was like, this is what I’m meant to be doing. I just trusted myself, and I just had this feeling that that’s what I’m meant to be doing, and that’s what I love. And I trusted that the love of my sport would come back to me, and yeah, I just had to trust it. It was a hard period of time”.

Jemma Reekie had a big win over 800m in Birmingham on Sunday, February 18, 2024, photo by Getty Images for UK Athletics

In the midst of all this, Jemma and her friend Laura Muir decided to leave the only coach either of them had ever had, Andy Young, after an incident in a training camp. As well as her mental struggles, she was now without a coach. She decided to work with Jon Bigg.  The problem was that Jon was based in the south of England, some 500 miles from Scotland, where Jemma had lived all her life. (500 miles is a lot further for people with a small-country UK mindset than it is for Americans).  She got just the response she needed from Jon Bigg, who told her: “You know what, I don’t care how you run this summer. I just want you to be back on the line having fun”. She added of Jon, “I needed to make that change and I needed someone to believe in me and have that faith in me”. That Jon’s wife, Sally Gunnell, was herself an Olympic gold medallist meant that Jemma had someone who understood elite running to help her through this difficult period. Bigg also coaches Ellie Baker, who gave Jemma a training partner she knew well. Jemma also acknowledges the importance of the support of UK Athletics during this difficult period.

Jemma Reekie takes the 800m at Microplus UK Athletics Indoor, photo by Getty Images for UK Athletics

Jemma described the way her training had changed from Andy Young to Jon Bigg: “Before, I was doing like more 1500/5K training, and it’s done me so well so far. It got me to a certain place, but deep down, I knew I was gonna have to do something else when I was watching the top 800 girls. They’re so strong and fast. And I just knew that I needed something different and that I needed that to happen sooner rather than later because I’m now coming into being 26 this year, so I made that change, and I’ve been doing a lot more speed work, a lot more technical work to change my running. I do not want to change my running style so much but to improve it, and we’ve managed to do that quickly with some drills, strength work, and speed work. And I’m still doing longer sessions and still tapping into that 1500 work, but it’s much more quality work that I’m doing, which means I’m able to practice running better for longer and really looking at all those little details”.

Having won the GB trials in 1:58.24 earlier this month, Jemma is in a good position to make an impact in Glasgow.

*glandular fever (the common UK name) is also called mononucleosis

Jemma Reekie, Wanda Diamond League
London Athletics Meet
July 23, 2023, London, England, U.K. , photo by Kevin Morris

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