In 2020 Jess Judd managed to compete on fourteen occassions which included four cross country races – winning in January the Essex County Championships and the Northern Championships before placing 2nd in the BUCS Championships and 2nd in the National Championships in February. On the Road she ran three 10k races, winning them all and came 2nd in the one 5k she raced. On the Track Jess clocked 2.04.58 in the one 800m race she ran 4.10.03, 4.12.35 and 4.16.37 in her three 1500m races alongside winning a BMC Gold Standard 3000m in 8.57.60 as well as winning the British 5000m Championships at Sportcity (15.37.52). This was supposed to be Olympic year but Covid put paid to all of that and like athletes everywhere, normal training wasn’t as accessible as it would usually be nor were opportunities for competition. Athletes at all levels just had to try and make do, especially when it became apparent that the Olympics wouldn’t be going ahead.
2021 and everyone’s fingers were crossed that the Olympics would still be held in Tokyo, but could we be sure? What were elite athletes to do other than to try and prepare the best way they could for the eventuality of them actually taking place. That is exactly what Jess did – her aim – to achieve the qualifying Olympic times for the 5000m (15.10) and the 10000m (31.25). In May she went to America to find the races that would help her do this. On May Day, Jess ran 15.36.19 at the Kansas City Qualifier in 2nd place. Just eight days later on May 9th she followed that up with another 5000m race in California in which she came home in 4th spot with the Olympic qualifying time of 15.06.02. Five days after chalking off the first leg of the Olympic double qualifying times, she ran the 10000m, again in California and missed out on the qualifying time by an agonising 00.98seconds, running a time of 31.25.98.
Back in Britain with the 5000m Olympic time pocketed she went on to win the British 5000m Championships for the second year running, clocking 15.10.02 on the 27th of June – and this – after achieving the 10000m Olympic qualifying time at the British Athletics Championships & European 10000m Cup Race, posting a lifetime new PB of 31.20.96 in a thrilling race which went right to the end. There was just one more race for Jess before she flew out to Tokyo – a British Grand Prix One Mile Race on the Track in Gateshead where she clocked 4.31.18.
Jess winning the British 5000m Championships at Sportcity (27th June 2021)
Next stop, the airport for the journey to Tokyo.
Jess looking comfortable within the Olympic Rings in Tokyo
Some sixteen years ago – at the end of 2005 on Boxing Day, Jess ran a 5k as an U11 and posted a time of 20.55, a time which would certainly make people sit up and think. In 2006 as a first year U13, she lowered that 5k time to 19.07 in the first of two 5k races she did that year. There were 20 other races that year for her then Club – Thurrock – all of them on the Track. These included five 1200m races, 11 over 1500m, 2 x 800m races, a 150m and 200m race. Jess won 18 of them and placed 2nd in the other two. She ran a best of 2.25.69 (800m), 3.51.7 (1200m) and 4.49.03 (1500m).
From those beginings as an U11 young athlete back in 2005, she found herself over the years running faster, winning Championships and Titles at County, Regional and National level as well as English Schools plus being selected to represent her country. On Friday July 30th 2021 – 16 years after running 5k as an U11, she lined up in the qualifying heat for the 5000m at the Olympic Games in a stellar field of who’s who in Women’s 5000m running, and ran a time of 15.09.47 just three seconds outside her best missing out on qualifying for the finals as did team mate Eilish McColgan who ran 15.09.68.
What a journey – from a local 5k at the tender age of 11yrs to an Olympic 5000m race. But she wasn’t finished. She had qualified for the 10000m Final alongside Eilish McColgan and would line up on Saturday August 7th with some of the greatest athletes ever assembled including the world record holder Letesenbet Gidey who had run 29.01 this year to smash the world record and Sifan Hassan who had run 29.06 and had already won the Olympic 5000m title just five days earlier. She was also lined up against the conditions, which saw five athletes not finishing because of the heat and humidity. The conditions were brutal and punishing. Yet Jess, who started as the slowest qualifer of all of the 29 finalists, finished in 17th place which is an enormous tribute to her in a time of 31.56.80. However, the question remains – why did the organisers sanction a race and other races at the Olympics with conditions of 90 degrees and 80% humidity? Where was the Risk Assessment to protect athletes from these conditions? What were the control measures in such risk assessments? If they existed, were they all just rolled up into one control – athletes own physical and mental courage in fighting for their own survival?
Jess summed up her Olympics when she spoke to the Harriers on her return. “I really enjoyed my Olympic experience, I learnt so much and for the first time believed I could compete with those girls. I was annoyed to be so close to the perfect race in the 5k, with 2 laps left unfortunately my legs gave out and humidity killed me, just sapped my energy! But I gave it everything and know I can compete on that stage, so it nearly worked! In the 10k I knew the humidity would affect me, so I ran my own race, I was the slowest going in and to come 17th out of 29 people was a good run out. My aim was to kick on with 2k to go but unfortunately the humidity just made me so tired and my aim became to finish the race!“
In those fifteen years, there have been some wonderful times for Jess as she taken on all challenges, simply for the joy of running, she loves to run and see what she can achieve and how she can challenge herself. She is a real role model for young athletes and indeed, athletes everywhere. She has proven that you can have a dream as a child and make it come true, but with that old caveat hanging around all of the time – it can be realised if you are prepared to put in the work, commit yourself, accept the challenges and take them head on. It means dealing with set backs as well as triumphs, but it all becomes worth while when you stand on the start line in an Olympic Final, ready to compete with the best in the world. Jess has great attitude, her mentality, her sheer strength of character is something we really admire in her. Grounded, friendly, approachable and respectful of other athletes. The greatest compliment we can give to Jess is to acknowledge what the athletics world thinks about her – she is a Runners Runner.