Is Emily Pidgeon’s story a tale of frustration and unfulfilled talent? Or, as AW’s editor believes, is it a career that should be celebrated for everything that she did win?
Emily Pidgeon was the archetypal teenage prodigy and London 2012 hopeful. Now, as reported in the latest issue of Athletics Weekly, she has called time on her career aged just 24.
During an amazing junior career she was dubbed “the new Paula” after winning eight English Schools titles. Her many achievements also included the European junior 5000m title, which came just a few weeks after her 16th birthday and London’s Olympic bid victory in July 2005.
It led to her featuring on AW’s cover several times and being named as one of the Daily Mail’s “magnificent seven” sporting talents to follow in the run-up to the London Games. Fast, pretty and articulate, she was sponsored by Nike, Emporio Armani and Samsung and joined the same management agency as Radcliffe herself.
Her career was not without controversy either. With her coach, David Farrow, at loggerheads with UKA, she pulled out of the 2006 World Juniors and World Cross. The story made the national newspapers, as did her refusal to sign an athlete contract.
For a long period the young Pidgeon seemed invincible and at one particular end-of-year awards event her father collected her junior athlete of the year prize (his daughter was altitude training in South Africa) and told the 400-strong audience of athletes and industry insiders that she would make the Olympic podium one day.
Certainly, she was a phenomenally exciting athlete to watch and during her heyday of 2002-07 I used to joke with colleagues at Athletics Weekly that we’d rather see a showdown between Pidgeon and one of her big rivals like Charlotte Browning than many of the elite senior head-to-heads hyped on television.
Ultimately, though, her performances began to slide, injuries took their toll and she failed to make the London Olympics. Some would argue it was inevitable. Where is there “to go” training-wise, for example, when you are going to warm-weather camps in your early teens?
As one of the lines in Blade Runner goes: “The light that burns twice as strong lasts half as long.” And Pidgeon’s story is a reminder to other prodigies, such as Mary Cain and Jess Judd, that amazing junior achievements do not always translate into senior success.
Some of Pidgeon’s teenage British rivals, however, have gone on to greater things as seniors. Non Stanford, who often finished a relatively distant runner-up behind Pidgeon in junior races, is now world triathlon champion. Like Pidgeon, Steph Twell has struggled with form and a career-threatening ankle injury, but was pre-selected in September for this year’s Commonwealth Games where she will compete for the host nation Scotland.
So is it sad to see Pidgeon hang up her spikes? Definitely, but it certainly isn’t a disaster.
Surely it is better to have won something than nothing at all and most athletes would kill for the medals and memories that Pidgeon earned during her youth. Also, while many teenage talents continue to chase the dream in vain throughout their 20s, Pidgeon has been bold enough to cut her losses and focus on other things.