BRITAIN’S most famous distance runner Paula Radcliffe has tipped Canvey’s young star Jessica Judd to win a medal at this week’s European Championships – but only if she takes some of the pressure off herself.
Radcliffe, who has been acting as a mentor to the 19-year-old, is worried Judd is being held back by the weight of expectation on her young shoulders.
And she wants to see the Canvey teenager – who runs in her 800m heat this morning – relax for the championships in Zurich and re-discover the enjoyment of racing.
“If she goes out there and thinks ‘this is my first European Championships, I’m just going to go out there and have fun’, then I really think she can medal,” said Radcliffe who has a European Championships 10,000m gold medal on her own illustrious CV.
“She needs to relax because that’s when she is at her best. If you think back to her best performances like the European Team Championships last year (which Judd won) and Oslo this year (where Judd ran her personal best time of 1m 59.77s) you can see that.
“The problem is she races with such maturity that people treat her like they would (33-year-old) Jenny Meadows in terms of experience, but she is just 19.
“She puts a lot of expectation on herself and you worry about her losing the natural enjoyment she gets from running because that’s when she is at her best.”
Jo Pavey celebrates winning gold in the 10,000m in Zurich
Radcliffe said Judd only need look at her England team-mate at the Commonwealth Games, Jo Pavey, for inspiration.
Forty-year-old Pavey won a bronze medal in the 5,000m in Glasgow in a memorable run that Radcliffe puts down to her just going out and enjoying herself.
Pavey then backed it up with a gold medal in the 10,000m at the European Championships on Tuesday night.
“If she can run a little bit like Jo did then she can medal,” Radcliffe said. “But not if she goes on to the track thinking ‘I should be running like this, or if I want to medal I should be running like that’.
“The thing with Jess is she is a really natural racer. It feels like, at the moment, she is trying to over-think things.”
Judd was devastated after finishing fourth in the 800m Commonwealth Games final in Glasgow, saying “fourth is the worst place to finish in a final”.
But Radcliffe said she had spoken to her and told her that is not the case.
“I think she did great at the Commonwealths,” Radcliffe said. “Fourth is not the worst place. Fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth are all worse than that. I told her you can feel proud. She ran everything right but just didn’t have anything left in her legs at the end the way Lynsey Sharp did.
“But she has only just finished growing. She has got so many years to look forward to and so much potential.”
Judd has long called Radcliffe, who is still the world record holder for the marathon, her hero.
And in the past couple of years their friendship has blossomed with Radcliffe becoming something of a mentor to Judd, always there if she needs words of advice.
And Radcliffe says she is only too happy to help out the Chelmsford AC athlete.
“I speak to her every now and then,” she said. “She knows that I’m always here if she needs me to talk about anything. It doesn’t even have to be about running, I’ll do everything I can to help.”
Judd runs in the second of four heats in the 800m in Zurich today at 11.31am.
The first three in each heat are guaranteed a place in tomorrow’s semi-final with the next four fastest losers also going through.
The race will be screened live on BBC2.