“When I’m really nervous and I can feel every nerve tickling in me, then I know that I’m going to be good, because that also makes me very in the moment and very sharp, like I can sense anything."
Dutch sprinter Fleur Jong has to conquer her nerves to be at her very best at the Berlin Grand Prix in Germany this weekend (30 June – 1 July).
The final Grand Prix of the season at the city’s Friedrich Ludwig Jahn Sportpark provides the last chance for the 22-year-old to achieve the qualifying time required to secure a place on the Dutch team for this summer’s European Championships.
They take place in the same venue in just two months’ time.
“I am planning to compete in the Europeans but I haven’t qualified yet, so this weekend is going to be very nerve-wracking. This is my last chance and the Dutch standards are very strict,” explained Jong, who currently sits top of the 100m T62 rankings with a best this year of 13.98.
A six-week setback in training due to problems with her stump and consequent adjustment to her prosthetics means that Jong has not yet reached the speeds she knows she is capable of achieving, but she hopes racing under pressure this weekend will help bring out her best.
“When I’m really nervous and I can feel every nerve tickling in me, then I know that I’m going to be good, because that also makes me very in the moment and very sharp, like I can sense anything.
“When I’m the most nervous I usually race the best, but the feeling before that race is really horrible. You actually feel like ‘okay, I’m going to be in the blocks within five minutes and I have no idea how to get out’ – that’s how nervous I am. But that’s what works.”
Jong is determined to book her lane in the 100m T64 (for T44, T62 and T64 Para athletes) at the European Championships – not least because this year there is a real prospect she can reach the podium.
Her major championship experience so far includes the 2015 and 2017 World Championships as well as the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games – the Dutch team did not compete at the Grosseto European Championships two years ago – and with one medal to her name so far (bronze in Doha) she is determined to win more.
“I would absolutely love that,” she admitted. “I’ve been on the podium in Doha, which was my first time, then after that not any more. So the Europeans is for me the chance to get back on that stage.”
With Paralympic and world champion and fellow Dutch double-leg amputee Marlou van Rhijn not competing so far this year, Jong also knows this season provides the chance to step out of her teammate’s shadows.
“That was kind of the plan so I’m hoping to make it work this weekend. It’s going to be beating the odds but it’s not impossible,” added Jong.
In fact, it’s another Dutch sprinter, Marlene van Gansewinkel, who could pose the biggest threat to Jong’s European ambitions.
Van Gansewinkel competes in the T64 class for single leg amputees and set a new world lead of 12.88 earlier this month. The pair train together and know each other well, and if anything, van Gansewinkel’s form has helped Jong find her focus.
“Training is going very well and Marlene is also helping me; we are running together and I am chasing her, and that’s going very well. So I can do it, but I also have to do it at the moment.
“I know what she can do and she knows what I can do, at the moment the difference might be a little bit too big, but as I’m getting faster we are getting closer together.”
But first and foremost, the Berlin Grand Prix. Jong remains upbeat; when the pressure is on she knows the prospect of qualification could give her the vital edge she needs.
“I’m really looking forward to this weekend it’s going to be like a rehearsal for the European Championships.
“It’s the right location, it hopefully gets me a little extra nervous being there, and that will help me put down the right time.”