Loughborough graduate in form of her life for Olympic triathlon
25 July 2012
Loughborough University graduate Jessica Harrison says she is in the form of her life as she bids to win a medal at what will probably be her last Olympics.
Jessica, 34, who graduated in Physical Education and Sports Science in 1999, was born in Sheffield but the triathlete now competes for France after becoming a French citizen in 2005.
Last October, Jessica won the Tongyeong ITU Triathlon World Cup in South Korea, her first World Cup triumph in 13 years of trying, and it came after her French National Championship win and a season-best at the World Championship Grand Final in Beijing.
As a result Jessica, pictured winning in South Korea, is brimming with confidence ahead of the London 2012 Olympics and, while she says Britain’s Helen Jenkins is favourite for the gold medal, she believes she could get on the podium if things go according to plan.
Jessica, speaking from France where she is putting the final touches to her preparations, said: “I’m certainly in the form of my life, so I’ll be going into the race with absolutely no regrets about my preparation.
“I’m lean, I’ve done training sets I could only dream about before and, mentally, I’m looking forward to it... so bring it on!
“I think finishing seventh at last year’s world champs final (in a sprint for third place) and also the win in Korea did give me that boost I needed to really believe in myself going into the winter training, and gave me that extra kick to move up a level.
“I’m a pretty outside chance - but to be honest I do believe that I’ve got a shot at a medal.
“The fact that the Brits picked a domestique (Loughborough University’s Lucy Hall) to lead out the swim could work in my favour and I’m on the run form of my life.
“I would say top eight and a medal if everything goes 100 per cent my way.
“Helen Jenkins has got to be favourite. But Erin Densham has shown some amazing form this year - so those two would be my picks.”
Jessica’s decision to change citizenship came six years after she left Loughborough and moved to her parents’ house in the south of France for warm weather training.
She missed out on the British Olympic team in 2004 and by 2005 she was the highest ranked female triathlete in France and decided to become a naturalised French citizen.
Jessica says it will feel weird competing for France in England but insists she feels French now.
She said: “My Dad, brother and soon to be sister-in-law will be there as well as quite a few friends, some French some British.
“I guess it should feel weird - but I’m just happy to be going and to be in good form.
“I’ve lived in France ever since I finished my degree in Loughborough so I do feel more French really now.
“I’ve spent most of my adult life in France - but I loved growing up in England and loved uni – it’s just the way the road took me really, it was not planned.
“But now I’m here I love the French way of life - very laid back in lots of ways, taking the time to enjoy things.
“I do miss my English friends - I see my family pretty regularly with holidays etc - but hopefully I will be able to get back to the UK more to catch up after the Games.”
Jessica says the London Olympics will probably be her last. “It will pretty certainly be my last Olympics, but who knows, if the team event gets in for Rio maybe that will be a motivation to keep going as I love that type of racing.
“But in October I’m racing the World Triathlon Series final in Auckland and I’d love to improve my best ever world champs result, which is ninth.
“I’m currently 10th in the world but with a race in hand. Next year is anyone’s guess really!
“I know this winter I’ll take a pretty long period off, a month or two, to recover from the last few years' hard training - and no holidays! - but after that I’ll just see how I feel, and see if the spark is still there.
“I love racing and I only want to carry on if I still get that buzz. As a minimum I’ll still race a bit for my club (Poissy Triathlon) but I’m pretty interested in racing some non-drafting - not Ironman though! - and Xterra perhaps. But we’ll see!”
Jessica says she has fond memories of Loughborough, which gave her the support she needed to make a success of her sport.
She said: “I loved Loughborough - I had a brilliant time there.
“Socially it was so much fun and, in sporting terms, I really got the support I needed to keep me racing while I finished my degree before going full time into triathlon.
“I don’t think many universities would have been able to provide that support – it’s often either you study and give up your sport, or you go full time and neglect your studies.
“I loved that at Loughborough, I didn’t have to make that choice - I could keep doing the two things that were really important to me.
“It also gave me the academic grounding that has been indispensible to me since.
“I’ve continued my studies through distance learning, doing a professional translators diploma and recently setting up a business with a friend (Mako wetsuits and swimwear - watch out, coming to the UK very soon! www.mako-sport.eu).
“The rigour to follow through with those kind of projects was certainly something that Loughborough helped instil in me.”