Jonnie Peacock: The blade gets a great response on Strictly!British sprinter says people are viewing 'disabled people as cool' 11 Nov 2017
“Whenever I bring the blade out on the dancefloor I get such a great response, especially from children, able bodied and disabled, who just see it as really cool. It fascinates them and it brings them in to seeing someone with a blade and just thinking it’s really cool."
In the second part of our exclusive interview with Paralympic and world 100m T44 champion Jonnie Peacock, the British sprinter talks technique and taking criticism as he prepares for his latest performance on Strictly Come Dancing.
World and Paralympic 100m T44 champion Jonnie Peacock is already renowned for his exploits on the track – now he’s attracting a new legion of supporters for his moves on the dancefloor.
The effect is that he’s making Para athletics cool.
“Whenever I bring the blade out on the dancefloor I get such a great response, especially from children, able bodied and disabled, who just see it as really cool,” said Peacock, who is one of 15 celebrities currently taking part in the popular British television show Strictly Come Dancing.
“It fascinates them and it brings them in to seeing someone with a blade and just thinking it’s really cool. That again is showing disabled people as cool - and building positives.”
It may seem cool to Peacock’s army of fans, but even he wondered how easy it would be to step out in front of a live studio audience – not to mention the millions watching on television at home – and waltz, jive or tango through a 90-second choreographed routine.
For Peacock, dancing had been limited to the occasional night out with friends.
“That was the first thing that I thought about – just going out, having to get out there and dance in front of millions of people and making a massive fool of myself,” he said.
“But all those things jump to the back of your mind. I don’t know if it’s my athletics background but I just try and focus. I’m not thinking about looking like a fool, I’m just trying to remember the steps. Sometimes you literally only do the whole run-through the day before; I’m too busy panicking about that to worry about anything else.”
Peacock takes to the dancefloor again this evening (Saturday 11 November) with his professional partner Oti Mabuse, bidding to make it through to the ninth week of the show.
With judges scoring his performance each week, Peacock admits that his competitive spirit does shine through, although not as much as when he is on the track.
“I definitely am [competitive] for myself,” he admitted. “I told myself before coming on to the show that I was never going to get competitive – I’m not here to think that I could win it.
“I want to get the best score I possibly can, but at the end of the day I’m just trying to have fun. As long as I enjoy it and don’t fall over, I’m happy enough.”
Being an athlete does have its advantages however.
“I definitely feel like I can take on board technical advice – it’s very similar to how you would learn the technique in sprinting,” said Peacock, who had his right leg amputated below the knee after contracting meningitis aged five.
“Not taking anything personally too, when your coach or a judge says you can’t do something it’s like ‘Right, fair enough, let’s work on that.’ As an athlete you try and work on things and improve and that’s what we are trying to do here.”
Strength and stability is certainly not a problem. Peacock tells the story of his pre-show medical, when the doctor stopped him as he was about to leave to ask if he would be stable enough to lift his partner.
“My response was, well, in the gym I have to do step ups – stepping on to a box with 250kg on my back. Does that count? He just looked at me and said, “You’ll be fine.” We know we have the power there – lifting Oti is the easy bit. It’s all about the technique.”
As for his prosthesis, Peacock says it does not affect his dancing – although he can only pivot in one direction. When he wears trousers, even the professional dancers have said they cannot recognise which is his artificial leg.
“The first time you try a lot of steps some of them can be really challenging, but once you go over them again and again they get a bit easier. There might be the odd step you can’t do but as far as I aware that’s the same for everyone,” he added.
Peacock has chosen to take a year out from athletics, and although he will still train in 2018 he will “probably not” compete. But while focussing hard on perfecting his foxtrot, the 24-year-old admits the pull of the track remains strong.
“I keep telling myself I’m having a down year, and I feel like I have to keep repeating it so I believe it because I do worry if I started training I would end up doing two, three days a week, then increase it until I’m training every day again,” he said.
“I’ve only been away from it for a few months now but I really do miss it. It’s just where I like to be. I like to train hard, lift weights, accelerate, do blocks. I even miss the 120 metres, when you throw up because you’ve trained so hard!”
For now though it’s all about a winning waltz - and if his supporters get their way, Peacock could find himself pulling on his dance shoes for many more weeks to come.