Good runner, needs some tuning
Rather the shiny new BMW that she picked up a few days before jetting off, a sweetener being offered to Olympians up and down the country as all roads head towards London 2012. When the Commonwealth Games 400 metre hurdles medallist got the call, offering a speedy set of wheels, she initially thought it was a prank, perhaps from the same source as the current rogue – but highly amusing – spoof Twitter account which parodies UKA head coach Charles van Commenee.
The offer, she established, was genuine. “It was good timing because my other car was falling apart,” she exclaims. “It’s nice to get things like this because athletics has never been about money for me. Especially in Scotland, there’s not a lot of it about, and we don’t get as much of the profile as some of the guys down south. So it is a little reward.”
It would be a mere trinket if the 24-year-old were jet back from Daegu in a fortnight’s time with a medal. On current form, it is probably an ask. Like the golfer who has remodelled his swing, only to find his muscles rebelling against the adjustments, Child has latterly had to endure the teething troubles that come when a hurdling technique is de-constructed and then re-built again.
Returning from Delhi last autumn with silver, she refused to be blinded to the need for adjustments. Months earlier, in the final of the European Championships in Barcelona, she had run well for eight hurdles before stuttering down the home straight. Close but no cigar, she felt there was potential untapped. Having undergone a honest self-appraisal, she split from her long-time coach Stuart Hogg, turning instead – on the advice of van Commenee – to Malcolm Arnold, the Bath-based hurdles guru who mentored Colin Jackson in his pomp but who now oversees a group that includes Child’s team-mates Dai Greene and Jack Green.
Making the necessary adjustments has required patience. “It feels like an experiment,” she declares. The initial learning curve was steep. Certainly, Child has emerged much faster, her flat 400 metres best now quick enough to also merit inclusion in the GB relay squad. That extra sharpness, however, has brought as many problems as solutions.
“My stride pattern has to catch up to that,” she explains. “I feel that this year, I’ve been messy. But if I can get it right, I’ll be taking a second off. It’s just been a funny summer but I do feel if I get a good winter’s training with Malcolm, I can really nail things.”
A year out from the Olympics, a number of the British team will hope to come away from Korea with their credentials for 2012 enhanced or confirmed. Phillips Idowu and Jessica Ennis, both defending champions, are the outstanding candidates for medals. Mo Farah, pristine so far this year since switching his base to Oregon, has the opportunity to prove he can genuinely live with Africa’s best in the 10,000 metres. While Jenny Meadows, an 800m bronze medallist two years ago, and Greene possess strong credentials.
For Jeanette Kwakye, mere participation is a triumph. A shock finalist in the 100 metres in Beijing where she finished sixth, she bears the scars of a series of operations that left her wondering if she would ever return to the track. “It was a long way back,” admits the 28-year-old, who will be one of the first UK athletes in action next Saturday. “But I had an amazing team who got me back and I’m now doing this for them.”
Motivation will not be in short supply in Daegu. There are also incentives available to those, like Child, who are not yet on the list of athletes who receive the top tier level of funding. Having taken a two-year sabbatical from her teaching career, a little extra help would go a long way. Yet it will only come if she presents a convincing case.
“It doesn’t matter what people are expecting from me because I’ll always expect more from myself,” Child confirms. “I’ll be trying to get into the final, but I’ll have the heats and the semis to push myself just as hard as the final. I’ll have at least two, and hopefully three, fast races with good opposition to get a personal best. And that’s going to help me next year, which is really where I’m looking at it.”