19th November 2009
She is also using Roberto Forzoni, a former pirate radio DJ
Jeanette Kwakye once reflected on the way sex was used to sell sport by saying she did not want to walk around with something stuck on her bottom. A year on and she received the biggest bum deal of all. “If things don’t go how they’re meant to, this could be career-threatening,” she said.
The woman who was sixth in the 100 metres at the Olympic Games in Beijing last year had knee surgery last week after an Achilles operation two months earlier. But amid talk of drilled bones, blood clots and pity parties, one thing keeps Kwakye upbeat. “My perspective of track and field would be very different now if my London 2012 was not there,” she said. “I live around the corner and see the stadium every day. That excites me to the limit. Without it I would have thought twice about going through it all.”
That is a candid admission from a woman who was on the brink just 15 months ago. In 2008, she broke a 22-year British record on her way to a silver medal at the World Indoor Championships. She topped that by becoming the first British woman to make the 100 metres Olympic final for 24 years.
The future was bright, but then she was beaten by her body. She missed most of this year with injury, has had surgery on both Achilles tendons and then, after returning to training at the end of October, noticed a new problem. “It was a funny knee sensation,” she recalled. “It was not painful, but there was a loud clunk every time I extended my knee.”
Two weeks ago, she went for routine UK Athletics blood tests and mentioned it. “I expected to be there for 45 minutes but was there for four hours,” she said. “They did the scan. When I came back they said it was bad news — they thought there was a piece of cartilage flapping away in there and the only way to find out was surgery.
“I spent the whole weekend crying. Everyone reassured me, but there’s not much to say to an athlete who’s already been out for a year. They needed to get rid of the cartilage and drill holes in the bone. They needed the blood to clot and form more cartilage. I came round and the doctor said, ‘Prepare yourself for six months out.’ My jaw dropped to the floor.”
Eleven days on and Kwakye has been through an emotional mangle. “I had a complete pity party,” she said. “My mother moved in because I’m a complete mess on crutches.”
She is committed to a rehabilitation programme that she says is unprecedented in the United Kingdom. “It will involve working on one leg and doing lots of bike and pool work,” she said.
Her team at Lee Valley High Performance Centre includes her coach, Michael Afilaka, and Dan Pfaff, the centre director and former mentor to Donovan Bailey, the Olympic champion. She is also using Roberto Forzoni, a former pirate radio DJ turned psychologist who has worked with Fabio Capello, the England football manager. Fittingly, Forzoni is also a member of the Magic Circle.
Kwakye says sympathetic voices are not hard to find. One is Jessica Ennis, the heptathlete who ended a year of injury and inertia by becoming world champion in August. “I said, ‘Oh my God, how did you cope?’ She said you just have to get on with it. Feeling sorry for yourself is just destructive. The pit of pity is not good and I’m going to come out and do a Jess.”
In her absence, the sport has moved on. Carmelita Jeter, of the United States, became the second-fastest woman ever this year, while Shelly-Ann Fraser, like her Jamaican compatriot, Usain Bolt, is the world and Olympic champion. Kwakye’s best time, set in the Olympic final, is 11.14sec, which would not threaten the important medals, but she believes there is more to come. She is 26 and faster than Jeter was at the same age.
“There’s a lot of catching up to do, but I’m more than capable of competing with the best in the world,” Kwakye said.
Especially indoors. “I had an agenda for next year. I was a woman scorned. Indoors is my house and I was going to come out and show that it’s not just an American and Caribbean party.” The indoor season will be too soon for her, but she hopes to return for the European Championships in Barcelona next July. “I’m not the sort of girl to write myself off,” she said. It might just be the comeback from hell.