Commonwealth champion Janieve Russell is currently among the world’s finest 400m hurdlers. Here the Jamaican and 2012 IAAF World U20 champion explains her unusual route into the discipline and her passion for the event.
“I first started to run and win school sprint races at the tender age of five before later moving into the heptathlon. My 400m hurdles journey started by accident following a registration mess up at the (Jamaican) Boys and Girls Champs. I used to run the 400m and the sprint hurdles, so that is maybe why I was wrongly entered for the 400m hurdles. I only did two 400m hurdles sessions before my first 400m hurdles race, in which I ran 59.55 to qualify (for Boys and Girls Champs). Aged just 16 at the time, I was very nervous and I remember I was up against Ristananna Tracey (the 2017 World 400m hurdles bronze medallist). In only my second ever 400m hurdles race (which came at the Boys and Girls Champs) I ran 59.06 to finish fourth. Later in 2011, I won the 400m hurdles at the Carifta Games in 57.71.
“At this point I knew I had a talent, although I surprised myself to win a gold medal in 2012 at the World U20 Championships.
“Because of my background as a heptathlete, I have struggled with injuries for a large portion of my career and I would say I only started to love the hurdles in 2015 after making the World Championships team. That season I had struggled again through injury – after a piece of bone chipped off the knee. I was in pain for weeks prior to the Jamaican Trials but I surprised myself by qualifying. I then struggled to train and could hardly walk for a period before the World Championships, but I still managed to finish fifth competing against the best of the best.
“In 2016 I suffered a grade two tear of my rectus femoris but still reached the Olympic final, which doctors were surprised about. I think this once more proved my drive and determination.
“My passion for the event comes from the fact you can mess up at any point but still have an opportunity to rebuild. It is a rhythm event and one that, if I’m honest, I do have a love-hate relationship with. Sometimes because the lactic acid builds in my legs, I can’t wait for it to finish, but then it is also a beautiful event to watch with so many technicalities to the race.
“I feel I’m so well suited to the event because I am physically and mentally strong. It is always a happy feeling to know I have executed well. The training is always extremely tough, so to see all that hard work pay off is very rewarding.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF