Meadows: I don’t believe in the sport, but it has given me so much

Jenny Meadows and her husband, and coach, Trevor Painter with the World Championships bronze medal from 2009
Jenny Meadows and her husband, and coach, Trevor Painter with the World Championships bronze medal from 2009

Jenny Meadows can not wait for Saturday morning. She’s doing... nothing.

“And it’s the first time I can remember not having everything planned for me,” she smiled.

Jenny Meadows missed out on the 2012 Olympics

Jenny Meadows missed out on the 2012 Olympics

“I can do normal things, wake up and decide: ‘Shall I go to the Trafford Centre, shall I go and see a friend?’ I feel like I’m free from it all.”

The 35-year-old retired from the sport after failing to reach the final of the European Championships, an event which marked her last chance to break into the Team GB squad for the Rio Olympics.

Given a past sprinkled with both glory and frustration and a future which has yet to be mapped, she could be forgiven for experiencing a mixture of emotions as she returned to England yesterday.

But not so.

“The emotion is relief. Pure, pure relief,” she said.

“Physically I still feel good – it was only 16 months ago I ran four of the five fastest times in the world – and it was good to prove the doubters wrong.

“But I lost heart, it’s felt like a burden. They offered me a lane at the anniversary games in London, and I turned it down.

“I might go down there, but I don’t ever want to run 800m again in my life!”

Comment: Jenny was robbed of so many medals

Meadows started at Wigan Harriers at the age of seven.

She won the English Schools Championships in 1995, represented her country five years later and – while part-time – reached the semi-finals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

She went full-time the following year and her decision paid off spectacularly, as she claimed a bronze medal at the World Championships in Berlin.

“That was the highlight,” she said. “That was my first outdoor final, I went there with no-one thinking I could do it on a global level... it was unreal.

“After the race, I put my phone on and I had 500 messages, and then it died! I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe this has happened to me’.”

Her personal best that year, of 1:57.93, put her fourth on the UK all-time list. More medals followed, including silver at the World Indoor Championships in 2010, and she approached the London Games with high hopes.

But a cruel injury denied her the chance of competing at the event and hampered her following season.

Further disruptions by injuries and illnesses were nothing compared with the savage blow delivered away from training, as many of her Russian rivals were either caught, or accused, of doping.

Meadows had one of her silver medals, from the 2011 European Indoor Championships, upgraded to gold.

But there are others which are the wrong colour. Many finals she didn’t reach because of drugs cheats.

“I don’t want to sound dramatic, but I think I’d have been diagonsed with being depressed, on some scale, because of the whole situation and what it cost,” she said.

Her and coach, and husband, Trevor Painter, estimate they have lost out on prize money totalling six figures.

“I’ve got a gold from the European Indoors, and I have no affinity with it,” she continued. “It’s not the one from the day. These athletes who dope, they rob others of memories. That’s the hardest thing.

“I tore myself up for not being good enough for reaching a World Championships final, and it’s only afterwards we know some people tested positive (for banned substances).

“I almost don’t believe in the sport, which is such a shame. But I walk away knowing I couldn’t have done any more.

“I reached my potential and though I wish some of the medals I had were different colours, and I had more medals and more finals, I can walk away with no regrets.”

Meadows has not ruled out competing for Wigan Harriers in the future for fun, but “not at the 800m”.

She is partway through a masters degree in sports marketing, has some media work with the BBC lined up, and has spoken to European Athletics chiefs about playing a role in anti-doping campaign. Shehas not ruled out coaching or mentoring young athletes.

But the uncertainty about her next step is exciting her.

“My life has been so regimented for so long,” she said. “There are so many things I want to do, friends I want to catch up with.

“I’ve travelled the world and never stopped at a hotel and enjoyed it. Apart from our honeymoon, Trevor and I have never been on a holiday. I’ve never had a Christmas Day where I’ve not trained.”

In the hours after Meadows confirmed her retirement last Thursday, her phoned buzzed like it was 2009 again.

Jessica Ennis-Hill was among those to send her messages. “A great competitor and wonderful lady,” tweeted Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford.

British pole vault record-holder Holly Bradshaw wrote: “You have been such an inspiration to me growing up in athletics! True superstar.”

Athletics fans, and many Wiganers, are among those who have wished her well.

“I’ve been overwhelmed, truly overwhelmed,” said Meadows. “The Wigan people have supported me so much and the messages I’ve had have meant so much to me.

“Even though I don’t believe in the sport, at the same time I know it’s given me so much and so many memories, and allowed me to meet so many great people.”

Comment: Jenny was robbed of so many medals