Throwback Thursday: The year Jo Pavey conquered Europe

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Jo Pavey at the 2017 London Marathon. Julian Mason via Flickr.

She may have turned 45 today, but it was just over four years ago that world, European and Commonwealth medalist Jo Pavey made herself appear “ageless”.

In a career spanning three decades, perhaps Jo Pavey’s finest moment of glory came at one of the least likely times in her career, when she headed to Zurich for the 2014 European Championships less than a year after giving birth to her second child.

At that time she was only one month away from turning 40 and gearing up for her fourth European Championships. While experience was on her side, history certainly wasn’t. Nobody her age had ever managed to grab gold at the competition.

However, this runner was a different case.

A unique family set-up which involved her husband Gavin acting as her full time coach made adjusting back to life as an athlete that bit easier. Maybe even more crucially, it meant that the professional athlete could still find time to be a parent.

Training evenings would see her husband stand at the side of the track putting his wife through the ropes while the kids stood by to watch their hero at work. Perhaps if anything, her athletics commitments brought the family closer together.

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“My main priority is my kids” said Pavey at the time, “I’m fortunate that my running gives us more time together as a family rather than less.”

On the track it was clearly working. The month after she’d stopped breastfeeding, Pavey surprised everyone by storming to a comfortable victory in May’s British 10,000m Championships in Highgate to already seal her spot in the European Championships.

More impressive performances at the British 5000m Championships and the Diamond League soon followed, with the strong presence of her children always “motivating” her to carry on defying circumstances of her season.

Hearts were already being won throughout athletics, with many marveling at the now veteran long distance athlete squaring off against opponents sometimes half her age.

Few of them might have envisioned her subsequent Commonwealth Games campaign, as the former silver medalist added 5000m bronze to her collection in dramatic fashion, going toe-to-toe with the favoured Kenyans before striking back at the death to delight fans with a podium place.

Former World 10,000m champion Liz McColgan dubbed it the “best race of the games”, while Pavey’s former rival and marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe described her performance as “brilliant”.

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However, it was the praise from people outside athletics circles that was making Pavey’s story more compelling, with her position as a 40-year-old mother of two that practiced locally rather than at training camps winning the hearts of many ordinary aspiring runners throughout the country.

But if they were’t already won over by the heroics of Glasgow, then the European Championships would change everyone’s perception of the Devon-born athlete.

Entering as the fifth ranked athlete in Europe, the Commonwealth bronze medalist was certainly in the mix for medals, this time preparing to battle over 10,000m. However, as the race got underway it seemed as if anyone, regardless of their ranking, would be able to battle for a podium place, with a slow, tense first 2000m further opening up the possibility for something truly remarkable to happen.

Despite this seeming an ideal pace for Pavey, at the time it seemed as if it might throw her off, with the slow pace making the race seem longer and more of an effort to get through for the British number one.

“I’d hoped the Commonwealth Games would sharpen me up,” she said, “but as I was going round I felt ‘this feels quite tough and feels really really long’.

“I didn’t feel that confident when there were a few laps left, because I found it quite tiring!”

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If this was indeed the case for Pavey her running displayed anything but. She continued to use the slow pace to her advantage, sitting tight in third waiting for a moment to strike.

Then with 600m to go, she made her move. A swift injection of pace saw her edge ahead of Portugal’s Sara Moreira to move to second, now breathing down the neck of leader Clémence Calvin.

Then with one lap to go, Pavey surged to the front as history lay just one more gruelling lap away from her.

Pavey had done superbly to get herself into this position, but it soon looked like she would be caught. Calvin remained hot on her heels coming round the bend and the strain on the Brit’s face was clear for all to see. Yet all of a sudden, as the two sparring athletes entered the home straight, the leader summoned all of her strength for one final kick, charging ahead with the finish line in sight.

“Come on Jo Pavey!” screamed BBC commentator Steve Cram, who by now had left all trace of journalistic neutrality behind, as he and fellow former star Brendan Foster fell over backwards praising her performance.

The 2012 European silver medalist made it an historic gold in 2014, becoming the oldest athlete ever to achieve this.

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Even the winner was stunned by what had just happened, with Pavey having to wait until the results were officially announced before she began to celebrate her remarkable victory.

From this point on, Pavey had written herself not just into athletics folklore but into sporting folklore as well.

Recognition soon followed, including the SJA Sports Woman of the Year award, British Athletics athlete of the year, Cosmopolitan Magazine’s Sports Woman of the Year, as well as finishing third in the annual Sports Personality of the Year award.

But despite all this, virtually nothing changed for the newly crowned “supermum”. For her, it was all a welcome bonus to her happy life competing and raising a family at the same time.

Since then, the Pavey has released her autobiography ‘This Mum Runs” in 2016, while also breaking the British Olympic Games appearance record after making it five in Rio.

Now after finally receiving her bronze medal from the 2007 World Championships after the original medalist was uncovered as a drugs cheat, the 45-year-old’s career seems to just keep going and undoubtedly keep inspiring, as it will do for some time.

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