Jo Jackson gave England the perfect start to day six at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi this morning when she broke an Australian stranglehold to win the women’s 20km walk.
Jackson claimed England’s 20th gold of the Games before many of her team-mates were even awake. Setting out at 6.45am, the 25-year-old from Middlesbrough dominated the demanding race from start to finish to become the first British woman to win a major walk title.
She crossed the line after one hour 34 minutes 22 seconds with Australian hope Claire Tallent more than two minutes behind. Tallent was second in 1:36:55 with Grace Wanjiru Njue of Kenya third.
“That was amazing,” said Jackson. “I have dreamt of this moment so often for so long. I really put everything into this and I wasn’t expecting to win by so much.
“The race got very hard towards the last half hour, but I decided to stay with the leaders – a risk, but in the end it paid off.
“It started off slowly so I picked up the pace as my technique is so much better when I’m going quicker. Towards the end I could just relax and enjoy the race.”
Before today, Australia had won the women’s walk at every Commonwealth Games since it was introduced as a 10km event in Auckland in 1990, but Jackson ended that run here to bag her first major international title.
She grabbed an English flag as she crossed the line and waved it joyfully above her head.
Lisa Kehler was fourth in her fifth Commonwealth Games, a career stretching back to the event’s Games debut 20 years ago.
It was a sweet victory for Jackson after she had been disqualified from the World Championships in Berlin last year. She was tenth at the European Championships in Barcelona in July, but prepared meticulously for the extreme Delhi conditions knowing she would be among the medal favourites.
A sports performance student at Leeds Metroplitan University, Jackson spent three weeks training in a heat chamber at the college before heading out to England Athletics’ pre-Games holding camp in Doha.
“For an hour a day I walked on a treadmill at 60 per cent humidity and 32 degrees – that definitely helped today,” said Jackson, who was 22nd at the Beijing Olympics and 25th at her first World Championships in Osaka in 2007.
“I was the gold medal favourite here, so I did my job. I’ve never been a medal favourite before, so the pressure was on me to win,” she said.
Jackson will receive her gold at the start of this evening’s athletics session, at 17.30 Delhi time.
“I can’t wait to stand on the podium tonight and hear our anthem, it will be so special. This has given me the taste for more medals.”
Jackson immediately set her sights on the next big Games – London 2012.
“London is my next aim and I want to be in the top ten by then,” she said.
Kehler clocked 1:40:33, just missing her fourth Commoneealth medal after she took bronze in Auckland and Kuala Lumpur, and silver in front of her home fans in Manchester eight years ago.
“Well I can’t argue with that can I – fourth place with a seasons best at my age?” said the 43-year-old doctor form Wolverhampton. “I did struggle a bit there towards the end because I went so hard in the middle to make up time. It’s not too bad.”
Jackson not only snapped Australia’s winning streak but deprived them of the perfect family story as Claire Tallent’s husband Jarred Tallent won the men’s race ahead of his team-mate Luke Adams while India’s Harminder Singh set a new personal best to take the bronze.
Luke Finch was the first English athlete home in 10th with a time of 1:29:37, followed closely by Tom Bosworth, 11th in 1:30:44 and Alex Wright, 13th in 1:34:26.