Helen Jenkins Q&A

220 catches up with Helen Jenkins after the mayhem of post-Olympic week…

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Issue ID: September 277

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On 4 August, Helen Jenkins finished fifth in the women’s Olympic triathlon. While many had expected her to medal, Jenkins had in fact been nursing a knee injury since her last race in May.

So tell us about the injury, Helen.

Well I came back from San Diego and everything was fine. We’d [Marc, Helen’s husband and coach] decided not to do Madrid because my form was so good, so I decided to have five days off easy recovery, hardly doing anything before getting back into training.

After about four days of bike in the morning and swimming in the afternoons, I was kneeling down after a swim and I thought my knee hurts. I completely forgot about it and the next morning I woke up, went downstairs and thought my knee hurts again.

But you always have little aches and pains that you just ignore, so I went swimming and to be honest I couldn’t swim, I couldn’t kick my legs it was so painful. All I could do for two weeks was swim with the pool buoy, it was really bad. I went to see a few doctors, there was nothing on the scans, but there was a lot of pain.

So finishing fifth really was a fantastic achievement given your situation.

Yeah I’m proud of what I did considering the preparation I had. If anything that race gives me so much confidence because I was with the winners until 9k and I’ve literally had the worst preparation ever. If I’d been fully prepared I think I would have definitely had a medal. But you know, it’s sport, it’s unfair. I just got injured at the wrong time.

Were there any thoughts of pulling out before the race?

I think a lot of people would say, ‘you’re injured, why didn’t you pull out?” [But] it’s very hard to take yourself out of the race, and I think that with the results that I’ve had, I don’t think any of the other British girls had performed to that level anyway. Even though other girls that didn’t get selected for the team were probably thinking ‘I should have been in there’, I don’t think they would have got higher in the end.

How did your knee feel in the race?

I didn’t feel it in the race because you know when you’ve done a hard session you’re not thinking about the pain, you’re in the race, you’re in the moment. But as soon as I stopped, I thought, ‘yeah, that hurts’. I’d also taken a lot of painkillers, which helped during the race.

Talk us through that team strategy you employed.

We knew that I had problems and so the best way to perform was to be in that front pack. I had the wrong spot on the pontoon, but it worked well in the end. When we were together Lucy [Hall] controlled the pace, when the pace dropped she went to the front and picked it up if anyone attacked. I needed to save my legs for the run cause I knew I hadn’t had much running practice, so Lucy covered any breaks.

What was it like watching the men’s race?

It was amazing to watch, and I was more emotional than I thought I would be. We’re not really close, but we are close as teammates and to watch them do what they did, I was so happy for them. I thought I might be quite envious of that because it could have been me, but it wasn’t like that at all, I was happy to be part of the team.

So you were happy with the final result.

Yes definitely, and in the women’s race, too. But in the men’s, those three have been the best three athletes over the last couple of years. I saw Javier [Gomez, silver medallist] after the race and he said at Beijing he was fourth because he was injured, and he said ‘next time…’ as in it’ll be my turn next time to medal. That was nice of him to say that.

In the women’s race I was obviously so disappointed it wasn’t me on the podium, but those three girls were all true triathletes. There were no opportunistic runner who just ran through at the end, all three all-round athletes on both podiums.

What was Marc’s reaction when you first saw him post race?

I was pretty upset, and he just said, “You’re not doing this now.” There were so many people on the floor crying, and you look at them and think, ‘You have to be aware of your level and standard’. They’re crying and I’m thinking, ‘You’ve been 20th in every other race, what did you expect?!’ I’d won my last race, I had more reason to be upset than them! You have to hold yourself together and do it at the right time. There are many people that have helped me and supported me, especially in the last 10 weeks to get me to the start line. I’m so disappointed for them as well, cause they’ve put so much into what I’ve done and what I’m doing.

Who makes up your support team?

It’s mainly my physio Dan Grimstead, he works for the sports council in Wales. And then there’s Louise Jones my psychologist. I’ve known her since I first started doing triathlon so we’re good friends too. But all of the British Tri team, too, because I wouldn’t have got to the start line without them. People say that but I couldn’t walk the week before the race, so…

How did you deal with that setback psychologically?

I had to go into the race thinking I could win, which was quite hard but there was a point where I thought that. You would have seen at the start of the run I was at the front, that’s the way I race – I thought I’ve gotta do that because if I don’t people are gonna know that I’m not right. You have to race how you always race. That was the aim really because I had to believe I could win.

Part 2 tomorrow, when Helen talks about her future, penalties in tri and Lucy Hall's potential in the sport. Helen was speaking on behalf of Speedo (www.speedo.co.uk).

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Image: Delly Carr/ITU