Last weekend Louise Jones produced the meeting of her life, to win the 200m and 400m double in personal best times at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington. Steve Landells charts the 28-year-old’s rollercoaster journey - which proves persistence and determination can eventually reap rewards - in ten bite sized chunks.
Born in Wales in the UK in 1985, Louise showed a gift for sprinting from an early age. She was a regional sprint champion for South Glamorgan aged eight in the ‘60m or 70m.’
“Even back then everyone used to say I would one day become a runner,” admits Louise.
Her father, Graham, seeking a new life relocated the family from their Cardiff home to settle in Manurewa, Auckland in March 1995. Louise was aged nine. She soon joined Papakura Athletic and Harrier Club, where she quickly emerged as a sprinter of rare talent.
One lap gifts
In 1999 she set a New Zealand aged 14 record for the women’s 400m, running a stunning 55.6. Her passion, however, lay firmly with the shorter sprints and in 2000 she landed the 100m and 200m double at the quadrennial New Zealand Youth Games in Hamilton. “A lot of people have asked me why I didn’t stick with the 400m after such a good run, but I wasn’t psychologically ready for it at that point,” she admits.
World Youth disillusionment
She gained international recognition, as she was called up in a New Zealand team also containing the likes of Valerie Adams, and future Olympic multi-eventers Sarah Cowley and Brent Newdick for the 2001 World Youth Championships in Debrecen. However, the experience in Hungary proved a chastening one for the then raw 15-year-old as she failed to advance beyond the heats of the 200m, finishing sixth out of seven starters in 25.94. Soon afterwards she admits to “starting to resent athletics” and at the end of 2002 she took a break from the sport to focus on her schoolwork.
Semi-retirement then return
What had started out as a one-year break became a “two or three year” period away from the sport. It was only during her third year studying a bachelor of PE degree at Auckland University did she decide to give the sport another crack after a chance meeting with Joe Hunter - a coach enjoying a rising profile. In her early 20s she returned to the fold as a 100m and 200m sprinter. In 2008 she showed encouraging signs, placing fourth in the 200m at New Zealand Championships.
Return to one-lap challenge
In 2010 Louise opted to finally seriously target the 400m - the event which as a 14-year-old she had shown so much potential. That year she finished second in the one-lap event at nationals behind Joanne Cuddihy, but was crowned New Zealand champion as Cuddihy was an Irish international.
“It was a significant race for me because I ran 55.51 to finally break my personal best 11 years after my 55.6 time as a 14-year-old.” The following year she retained her national 400m title in Dunedin, recording a new personal best 54.36.
The upwardly mobile nature of her career came to a shuddering halt as she suffered a patella tendon injury which sidelined her for three months wiping out her whole 2012 season. At the beginning of 2013 she picked up a hamstring injury. Frustrations started to mount. She considered walking away from the sport.
Persuaded to keep training with the support of her family and friends she switched coaches to be guided by Chris Williams. Chris had guided his daughter, Monique, to the New Zealand 200m record as well as World Championship and Commonwealth Games representation. Slowly the Tokoroa-based Chris teased out of Louise the best of her talent. “It can be pretty tricky,” she said of the fact she lives in Auckland and her coach more than 200km south. “But my father videos most of my sessions and sends them to Chris. We’ll talk on the phone regularly. For some of my tougher sessions we’ll meet up in Hamilton.”
After nearly two years away from competition she was good enough to finish runner-up at the 2013 New Zealand Championships. However, with the full support of Pukekohe High School, where she teaches, Louise took three months off to live and train in the UK. “I didn’t want to go into another season not having raced for so long.” She based herself in Cardiff where her training was overseen by Darrell Maynard – a former coach to 2011 World 400m hurdles champion Dai Greene. She set a personal best of 54.14 in Brussels and finished fourth at the Welsh Championships. She thrived in the fresh environment. “Britain was a great opportunity because it showed me what was out there.”
Well prepared for the 2013-14 domestic season, the South Auckland-based athlete has enjoyed the season of her life. She has smashed PB’s for fun this year in both the 200m and 400m culminating in her new lifetime best marks of 24.28 and 53.53 for the distances en route to New Zealand titles. “It was the perfect weekend,” she explains. “It coincided with my parents’ 34th wedding anniversary and the day of my 400m triumph (Mar 29) was 19 years to the day since we arrived in New Zealand (from Wales).”
Louise hopes the 2014 New Zealand Track & Field Championships do not provide the high watermark of her career or even her season. She plans to compete in the Australian Championship starting in Melbourne today (Apr 3) and has not ruled playing a part in another helping the New Zealand women’s 4x400m team have another crack at achieving the Commonwealth Games standard. Long term Rio 2016 is a goal.
“As I’ve got older I’ve learned to train a bit wiser, so why not keep going? I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ll keep going until my body has had enough,” she adds.