The 2012 under-23 champion ‘ready to race’ in Tilburg, exactly six years after her gold medal-winning performance
When Jess Piasecki steps on to the start line at the Beekse Berg Safari Park complex on the outskirts of Tilburg in Holland, she will set off in pursuit of European Cross Country Championships success six years to the day since she won the individual under-23 title.
This is her first appearance at these championships since her gold medal-winning performance that day in Budapest but the struggles with injuries related to RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport) which stopped her progress have now made way for a return to form and a spring back in her step.
The Nottingham Trent University lecturer has produced fine recent performances in the British Athletics Cross Challenge events at Milton Keynes and Liverpool and is clearly relishing another chance to race, this time on a course which remains reasonably firm underfoot despite heavy pre-race rain.
The tight twists and turns, not to mention some of the man-made obstacles and a surface which is not short of sand, means there will hardly be a dull moment, too.
Great Britain are accustomed to success, having topped the European Cross medals table 11 times out of the previous 12 occasions, and hopes are high that the 40-strong team – captained by Kate Avery – will deliver again.
Piasecki is part of a British senior women’s side to be reckoned with and one which has a team title to defend, but is expecting a tough challenge from the hosts.
“I think we’ve got a really strong team and everyone gets along really well so hopefully we can all work together as a team do a really well,” she says. “I think the Netherlands will be vying for that top spot and they have a strong team as well so hopefully we can pull it out of the bag.”
Of her own individual chances, she adds: “I’d like to finish as high up as possible but most of all I just want get out there and race. That’s what I went out to do at Liverpool (she was third) and Milton Keynes (second) – get out there and be competitive and then just see what place that happens to bring.
“The twists and turns mean you are going to have be on your guard and be aware of all the positions because someone could come steaming round at any point.”
— Athletics Weekly (@AthleticsWeekly) December 8, 2018
She continues: “The start is known for being really fast but it’s really important to get out there early and be in a good position for what will be a 90-degree turn (at the end of the opening straight).
“There’s a tree in the middle and you basically have to go back on yourself to turn right so if you’re not in a good position there then you will struggle to get past. A sprint start is going to be really important so I might break my PB for 200m!
“It’s challenging and there are definite sections – there’s a muddy bit, a drier bit, some logs, twists and turns in the woods so there’s no place to relax. It will be different right the way through and you’ll have to stay on your toes the whole time so it could be anybody’s day, really.
“It could suit fast people and people who like the mud, so I think it will be a really good day.”
Joining Piasecki at the pre-event press conference, European Athletics president Svein-Arne Hansen insisted he was confident these championships would round off a year to remember.
“We have record participants and we are very proud that so many countries are here,” he said. “We’ve had a fabulous year for European Athletics. We had a very good under-18 championships and a championships for the history books in August in Berlin which was really something special and I think this European Cross Championships will really follow up the fantastic year we’ve had so far.”