Jonnie Peacock is still running and still smiling. That hasn’t always been the case in the past three years of assorted absences but he is getting there.
Getting back up to speed, getting a spring in his bladed step once more and, after a little wobble, loving athletics again.
With each day he is counting down to Tokyo and this week in particular is a bit of a mind-bender for him — the week when the Paralympics were due to start and a year before they will belatedly begin, on August 24, 2021. Covid: that great wrecker of plans.
But Peacock is smirking, and for a couple of reasons. Primarily, because he has been able to extract one of those sporting ‘positives’ out of an apocalypse, in that the pandemic has bought him more time to recover from a knee injury which was far more complicated than publicly known. And secondly, because the lockdown threw up a few quirky scenarios.
‘I’m not sure I’m very popular with my neighbours now,’ he says.
It relates to a little building project he undertook in his terraced house in Loughborough.
‘I built a platform to do some weightlifting exercises,’ he adds. ‘I didn’t want to be throwing big weights on to my floor so I got a few planks, sawed them, put some rubber in there, screwed it all together and then you have something to drop the weights on. Obviously when you do, it makes a big bang and like I said, the neighbours might not be too happy.
‘I had to hand over a package the other day and my neighbour was like, “Have you heard this huge banging, what is that?” It was a bit awkward.’
Adaptation. It’s been the underlining theme of Peacock’s life. The adaptation of becoming a two-time Paralympic 100m champion after losing the lower portion of his right leg to meningitis aged five; the adaptation of training for his hat-trick attempt in a world flipped on its head. Which takes Peacock to the subject of shoulder-height fences and a minor confession.
‘I might have jumped some,’ he says. Like many men and women in athletics and other sporting pursuits, he made a judgment call.
‘I was only two weeks back into running after my knee injury when everything hit,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t run on grass or concrete — it was track or nothing. The tracks all got locked, so for the first six weeks I might have been jumping over some fences. What I will say is I know I probably shouldn’t have in hindsight but there was literally no one else on the track.’ He adds: ‘There are a lot of people sitting and waiting for governing bodies to tell them what to do. As an athlete in this country, we are very privileged with our Olympic system and have everything set up for us to roll out of bed and do it.
‘When you take that away, so many athletes will wonder how they can train. We will see which athletes are finding ways to train and which athletes are very happy waiting at home.’
For Peacock, now 27 after coming to our attention as that confident teenager at London 2012, the appetite to compete has been revived after some wavering. During his last interview with Sportsmail, after winning a world title at London 2017, he spoke of feeling tired and needing a break following two Paralympic titles and his stint on Strictly Come Dancing. He took a sabbatical in 2018 and his carefully designed plan was to win a world title in Dubai on his return in 2019 and a third T44 Paralympic gold about now. A serious knee injury did for one; a pandemic did for the other.
‘Weird how it works out,’ he says. ‘But I feel much better for everything. I don’t know what I was in 2017 but it had turned into a job. I hadn’t had good years in 2014 and 2015 and I didn’t enjoy athletics. I won at Rio 2016 and then at the worlds in London in 2017 but I wanted that break.
‘I think it all worked. I have really felt myself getting back into it, especially over this lockdown. I’ve really fallen in love with athletics again. Maybe it’s doing all the Zoom sessions with my coach (Dan Pfaff) and that extra input and discussion but I honestly feel like I have. I’m enjoying what I’m doing.’
If there has been another benefit to lockdown, it has been in the chance for reflection.
An element of that tied in with Peacock’s recent work on a forthcoming Channel 4 programme, Superhuman Summer: The Paralympics Rewind, looking over the London and Rio Paralympics.
‘In sport, looking back is just not something you do often,’ Peacock says. ‘It is always about the next thing so I’ve found going over it all to be quite special.
‘London was obviously crazy. I still remember being in my apartment in the athletes’ village when the opening fireworks were going off. I thought something big was about to happen but had no idea how big and what it would mean in my life. In Rio in 2016, I just remember sitting with my room-mate Aled Davies after winning gold and I felt, I don’t know, free. You win and honestly, for me, the main feeling was relief to have won after quite a difficult cycle.’
A win at the end of this cycle would doubtless provoke the same response. The knee injury has been a deceptively large factor in his recent past, given he sustained it last September and initially expected the issue to pass within two weeks. ‘It was turning into one of my fastest seasons and then six weeks out from the worlds I stumbled in a warm-up and twisted my knee.
‘Two weeks became an operation and the next thing I was unable to walk in January, eight months before the Paras. It took a lot of scans and specialists to figure it all out but we’re there now. To be honest, the postponement has helped me.’
Missing the world championships in November was ‘very tough’ and his exasperation was compounded by them playing to non-existent crowds. As a figurehead of the Paralympic movement, Peacock is frustrated by the loss of momentum caused by staging events in areas with limited interest.
‘I get that the whole idea is to bring it to other places; to show them how amazing Para sport can be,’ he says. ‘But maybe the decisions need to be thought through a bit more in terms of who is ready. If you have a scale of 0-10, where 0 is no one turns up and 10 is London, then you need places to be a 5 or 6. They need to have some idea about it before arrival.’
Tokyo will be a different prospect, assuming the world is back on its feet by this time next year. ‘I’ll be ready,’ adds Peacock. ‘I’m sure of that.’
l Superhuman Summer is on Channel 4 on September 12 at 7pm, looking back at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.