Countdown to Rio: Peacock ready to defend his crown


He was one of the biggest British names at the London 2012 Paralympics.

There were wheelchair-racers Hannah Cockroft and David Weir, swimmer Ellie Simmonds… and T44 sprinter Jonnie Peacock.

Peacock’s T44 final in London was one of the sporting highlights of the 2012 games, pitting him against the USA’s Richard Browne and the Blade Runner, South African Oscar Pistorius, who at the time was the reigning Paralympic champion and had just become the first double amputee to run in the Olympics.

Despite that competition, Peacock won gold in a new Paralympic record of 10.90 seconds.

He went on to be crowned world champion in 2013, and has since twice been European champion, but had an injury-plagued year in 2015.

But Peacock believes he is now running faster than ever – thanks in part to returning to his former coach, the hugely-experienced American Dan Pfaff, in January – and he ran his quickest legal time since 2013 at the European Championships in June, when he took gold.

He also says he is getting faster all the time, but he may need to if he wants to defend his Paralympic title successfully in Rio.

After a spell of competing four weekends in a row – and moving house as well – during the summer, he returned to training last month.

“I’m happy with how it’s progressing and it seems that every week I’m getting faster,” he tells Disability News Service (DNS), “so now I’ve got another three weeks to get even faster.”

The T44 100 metres “is not in the same place that it was four years ago,” he says, “it’s moved on dramatically”.

In 2012, says Peacock, he was one of only two people who ran under 11 seconds, but this year there have been five or six sprinters who have broken the 11 second barrier, and three have broken 10.75 seconds since London, which is faster than his personal best of 10.84.

It is going to be “an intense race” in Rio, he says. “Very competitive.”

The favourite is American Jarryd Wallace, who narrowly beat Peacock at the Anniversary Games in London’s Olympic Stadium in July.

Pistorius, of course, will not be in Rio for a rematch, and Peacock dampens any discussion of his former rival, who is now a convicted murderer after killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013.

He believes the biggest name missing from Rio is not Pistorius, but Richard Browne, who took the silver medal in the 100 metres in London.

He adds: “I will be completely honest with you. I think if [Pistorius] was still racing, I don’t think he’d be doing the 100 metres in Rio.”

He believes the South African would no longer be capable of challenging for medals in the 100 metres.

“Oscar is a 400 metres runner, he always has been; that was his best event,” he says. “That’s what he went to the Olympics for.”

Talking to DNS before London 2012, Peacock said he wanted to be able to “walk away and know that I couldn’t have done better. Fourth, last or first, I will be happy.”

He says that nothing has changed. “You can only do your best and you can only hope that your best is good enough to win.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than losing a race and knowing that you made a vital mistake and that you could have rectified it.

“When you’ve run a clean race and you’ve run a fast race, and that’s all you had and somebody beats you, you’ve got to give it to them, they were the best athlete on the day, that’s sport…”

As befits his position as one of the stars and top-earners of the ParalympicsGB team, Peacock is well-coached in avoiding controversy.

The empty seats during the Olympics were “a disappointment”, he says, but he still believes there will be good crowds for the Paralympics.

It is not his job to worry about ticket sales, he says. “I’m going out there to try and focus on my race and try and do what I can to win it.”

He is also careful to avoid saying anything controversial about the funding crisis around the Rio Paralympics that was emerging when we spoke last month.

He tells DNS: “I don’t know enough about the situation to be honest. If it is true then it’s very sad and I sincerely hope that something is done, as it’s my dream to compete in Rio and it would hurt if that dream was taken away from me.

“For me and my race, it won’t affect me because I know my main rivals will be there whatever happens, and that’s what I’ve got to focus on now.”

In contrast to David Weir – the wheelchair-racer who Peacock says has become “a huge role model” because of his power and the way he “pushes himself beyond the limit” – Peacock is unconcerned by the failure of the International Paralympic Committee to store urine and blood sample from medallists in London and Beijing, so they can be retested to take advantage of advances in technology.

“This is the absolute first I have heard of this,” he tells me. “For me, it’s how you progress from here. It’s how you learn from these mistakes.

“As long as they have learned from it and they improve, what’s done is done, as long as they improve and get better.”

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