Four days ago Toni and Jess were in Rio being feted for their achievements, driven around by chauffeurs, hanging out with Sir Brad and quaffing champagne in lavish sponsor suites. Today Toni is doing a Tesco run in between Radio interviews. If the road to Rio was a long one, the road back to Sheffield and normality, is extremely short.
I read out my opening sentence to Toni as a way of directing the conversation,
“I’ve still got a chauffeur”.
Cue the inevitable dramatic pause and ensuing chuckle, “Yeah, he’s got a sixty four seater too. It’s the bus driver”.
“I’ll give you credit for that. It’s actually quite funny. Good to see you getting back into the swing of things”.
“It’s also true. Yeah, I’m bit tired but there’s a load emails to answer, bills to pay and a group of athletes I’ve got to pick up with”.
“You’ve done a fair bit of media over there and since you’ve been back. I saw some of the punditry and BBC Breakfast yesterday. The newspapers also seem full of it. What’s it like in the spotlight?”
“Well, it’s a relief to see how the British public have responded to Jess winning Silver”.
Toni Hams it Up Before The 800 Metres
“I think it was the manner of defeat. First she left it all on the track in the 800 metres and her post event interview was incredible. Real class. Felt quite emotional myself”.
You Couldn’t Have Done More
“And for Thiam to get five personal bests in one heptathlon. It’s off the scale. I said sixty-eight hundred would win it and Jess got 6775 with Thiam on 6810. Thirty five points. It could hardly have been closer. I think it’s the closest Olympic heptathlon ever”.
“According to The Economist, Jess should have won gold anyway”.
“Really? That sounds strange”.
“Bottom line is, the points system is the way it is. There were 63 points in the final long jump because of the distance Jess leapt away from the board. But it didn’t happen.
What did happen is that Jess has improved over the last four heptathlons. I did the analysis yesterday. She’s on an upward curve with a couple of PPPBs including the hep’ itself and the Javelin wasn’t far off. In any other scenario, beyond the exceptional performance of Thiam, she would have made gold”.
“Sorry to sound like everyone else but that forces me to ask the retirement question”.
“Same answer, which is the truth. That’s up to Jess. She’s going to take some time and we’ll talk but ultimately it’s her call”.
I sense the need to move on from this topic, “Talk me through what happened after the event”.
“In the end I only got 90 minutes sleep from Saturday through to Sunday. I couldn’t wind down after the event so when everyone else went to bed I went to bed and had five slices of pizza”.
“With champagne no doubt?”
“No doubt. The next day everything got really busy. The BOA has someone in charge of managing success so we sort of got spun into that. We visited Omega house, British house and others. It was basically me following Jess from interview to interview”.
Ready to Perform
“How was it?”
It was quite nice. BP were brilliant hosts. One of their senior guys was called Jo. He was funny with a great sense of humour. In short, chats with him lead to having dinner with Michael Johnson and his wife”.
“I like it. Very rock ‘n’ roll”.
“After that, it seemed no time before the bags were packed and we were off and running. I slept on the plane as I was shattered and since then it’s been back home mixed with various media commitments”.
“As well as retirement, a lot of the media is still playing up the KJT issue”.
“It’s interesting. And also unfair. With analysis you’ll see it was one of the highest scoring heptathlons ever. Kat has got a lot of stick but her sixth place points would have won silver in 2000 and 2004 or bronze in 2008.
Yes, Kat could have been more consistent by throwing better but the heptathlon is an event put together to enable athletes to play against their strengths and weaknesses. Kat achieved a national record in the high jump whereas the Belgium girl had a very poor 200 metres.
“Jess was so solid”.
“What Jess produced and what we’ve always worked towards is a consistent performance. She was always within a few percentage points of her PBs. Unfortunately for us, as I said before, Thiam managed five PBs. That will be incredibly difficult to repeat”.
“Where do you think it leaves KJT?”
“Like I said, the commentary is all wrong. It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that many of the people writing for the papers do not understand what performance is. Genuine analysis is lacking.
I’m disappointed that someone high up in the sport in this country hasn’t taken time to step back, reflect and comment appropriately by putting things in perspective”.
I’m guessing this is something we’ll pick up on another time.
“So, what now for you?”
“It’s the same as after 2012. What should happen is, the credits roll up and that’s the end of it. But the credits don’t roll and life goes on. Work continues, bills need paying and athletes need coaching”.
And just like that, we’re on the first step of the next journey. We’ll find out where the coach is taking us over the next few weeks.