Taylor has battle to survive let alone earn Rio ticket

Speak to any athlete, swimmer, diver or cyclist with a little over 18 months to go until the next Olympics, and the words Rio de Janeiro are never far from their lips.

Jessica Taylor, left.
Jessica Taylor, left.

The Summer Games of 2016 loom large on the horizon of every one who competes in an Olympic discipline, whether they are a former champion or a budding superstar.

Jess Taylor, however, is no such athlete. The Olympics, or any major international event for that matter, have never been a given for this busy daughter of York.

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Not even last summer’s Commonwealth Games – when she shocked the heptathlon world with a surprise bronze – had been on her radar at the start of 2014.

And today still, as a full-time athlete at long last, the 26-year-old is not looking further than making a strong bid for selection for the world athletics championships in Beijing in August.

No-one has a divine right to compete at any event – injuries often see to that – and Taylor appreciates that to achieve anything in athletics, she has to work harder than anyone.

Not that she is adverse to a shift at the coal face. For the duration of her 20s, Taylor combined a part-time athletics career with seven years of studying for a degree and then a masters in architecture. She even spent time in Africa working in townships because the humanitarean aspect of architecture is an avenue she wants to go down when her competing days are over.

She was still putting the finishing touches to her masters two weeks before Glasgow.

“I was juggling two part-time jobs, university and athletics, so it was a tough year,” said the former City of York athlete, who was raised in Holland before moving to York with her family, aged nine.

“The Commonwealths was an aim at the start of the year but I didn’t tell anyone but my mum and dad, and my boyfriend.

“It was such a big aim that anyone saying they weren’t targeting it is lying, but how realistic it was is slightly different.

“In the back of my mind I wanted to go but didn’t really think it was achievable with how much I had going on. I was incredibly happy to get the call to say I was going, but even then I was the third member of the England team behind Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Morgan Lake.

“I was ranked seventh going into the Games, but when Kat and Morgan pulled out (injuries) I was ranked fifth and thought the two girls ahead of me, a Jamaican and a St Lucian, wouldn’t appreciate the Glasgow weather.

“I didn’t tell anyone other than my parents and my boyfriend that I wanted the bronze, but as things started progressing I started to believe I could do it.

“It was still a massive surprise though, because I didn’t think I’d be going.”

However, having achieved six personal bests in achieving the qualifying standard, Taylor then lowered three of those marks in the two days of competition in the heptathlon. Her high jump in particular, was a huge personal best as she celebrated bronze.

By October, Taylor – who is still not fully funded by UK Sport – opted to go full-time in what is her last throw of the dice.

“I was going to give it up last year, but then Glasgow happened, and now this is the first time I can train full-time so I’ll see how it goes,” said Taylor, who now trains with Sale Harriers.

“It’s make or break, really. I’ll either retire at the end of the year or give it one more year.

“There’s no point thinking about Rio because without funding I can’t sustain it much longer than a year. I need to get a job at some stage.

“But I’m actually enjoying athletics a lot more because I’m not spending hours at the computer doing all my work – I actually get to rest.”

If her early results are to be believed, full-time training suits Taylor, and a future beyond the year’s end beckons.

She set a personal best in sealing her place as one of four multi-eventers – alongside Toni Minichiello students Karla Drew and Jo Rowland – in the Great Britain team for the combined events international in Holland this weekend. After that, she heads to Sheffield next month for the British Championships to contest the hurdles and long jump, and then its outdoors for the long road to Beijing.

“My approach to the worlds is the same as last year,” said Taylor, who added 444 points to her personal best last year, and needs another 250 on top of that this term to have a chance.

“There’s Jessica Ennis-Hill hopefully coming back, Katarina and Morgan who have both got the required score so again, it will be a huge ask. But to say I don’t want it would be lying.”