Jenneke Hopes to Dance on Commonwealth Stage
By Aaron S. Lee
On the eve of the 2014 Commonwealth Games national selection announcement from Athletics Australia, 100m hurdler Michelle Jenneke is calm and collected.
According to Jenneke’s manager – and mother – there is hardly a moment in the day that her 20-year-old little girl is not wearing her trademark smile.
“Anyone that knows ‘Shelly’ knows that she is just a fun-loving spirit that simply never takes life too seriously,” said Nicky of her daughter who burst onto the scene after a viral video broke online showing the rising track and field star warming up using a playful dance routine prior to the start of the women’s 100m hurdles during the 2012 Junior World Championships in Barcelona.
Jenneke, who went on to finish fifth overall, became an instant Internet sensation, attracting more than 25 million views on YouTube, 155k likes on Facebook and 25k followers on Twitter. To say the 2012 Summer Youth Olympic silver medallist is more renown for busting a move on the startline and ultimately posing for Sports Illustrated’s illustrious ‘Swimsuit Issue’ than her own athletic accomplishments is a massive understatement.
But make no mistake, the 172cm Jenneke, who turns 21 on June 23rd, has yet to reach her full athletic potential. The record-breaking hurdler’s (13.46, 2010 NSW U18) resume includes an impressive five national gold medals spanning from 2009-2012, amongst 17 total podium finishes dating as far back as 2008.
Jenneke has also achieved two gold medals (100m hurdles, 4x100m relay) and a bronze (100m sprint) at the Oceania Youth Championships in 2010, as well as the silver medal in the 100m hurdles at the Summer Youth Olympics later that year.
But make no mistake, even with an impressive CV, the carefree, New South Wales-native is still regarded by most as the famous ‘Dancing Hurdler’ on YouTube and that’s ok by Jenneke.
“All the opportunities are absolutely amazing and so unexpected,” Jenneke recently told Sportette while promoting her soon-to-be-released fitness app aimed at helping amateur athletes with stretching both pre- and post-workout. “I can’t complain about that so I am just trying to make the most of it.”
Australian K-1 Olympic silver medallist Jessica Fox, 19, a teammate of Jenneke during the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics, recently stated that she believes the promotion of women in sport depends on attractiveness rather than performance.
Jenneke does not disagree, but chooses to embrace the attention she receives and says the perception of women in sport is quickly changing – and for the better.
“It is a shame how females in sport are often presented,” said Jenneke, who is also currently studying mechatronic engineering at the University of Sydney. “At the moment there is no escaping it, and I don’t have a problem with it as I know when I am on the track it’s strictly about me doing my thing.
“That clip of me dancing is nothing new as it’s something I’ve been doing for five years to warm up and stay loose before each race. I’m still surprised by the attention I’ve received over it and I’m still going to do it. But no doubt the video has raised my profile and given me opportunities that I am honestly grateful for.
“I do feel that women’s sport as a whole is getting more and more attention for the right reasons,” she said. “I don’t think it will reach the level of many of the men’s sports like Rugby League any time soon, but I think in Australia we have so many amazing female athletes that there is simply no way to ignore them and their success.
“I’d much rather have an Olympic gold medal than an SI swimsuit cover, but I don’t see why I can’t aspire for both.”
However, before Jenneke targets Rio 2016, she has her sights firmly set on joining fellow Aussie Sally Pearson, who has already qualified, at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. While she has yet to qualify, Jenneke is optimistic of her selection to join the Australian national team on Thursday, June 5.
“The Comm Games are what I’ve been aiming for all season and I think I’ve put myself in a position that I could definitely be selected,” said Jenneke who posted a PB of 13.23 on her way to winning the 100m hurdles at the Queensland Track Classic earlier this year. “Hopefully the selectors choose me.”
Jenneke’s training focus has been on endurance for the past month, and she will now shift her attention towards speed and power in an effort to peak for a potential winning performance in July.
“I will be heading over to Europe in June regardless of whether or not I am selected for the Comm Games as I have a few races in Belgium and Wales already lined up,” Jenneke said. “It will be disappointing if I am not selected, but I know that sometimes you don’t always get exactly what you want.
“This would be my first international team selection if I make it, but if not, I hope to have many years left in front me.”
With a constant juggling act of school, athletics, family and friends, just how does Jenneke see her career moving forward?
“I’m not really sure about what the future holds,” she said. “I have not looked too far ahead at where I would ideally like my career path to take. At the moment I just want to get as fast as I possibly can, and as long as I’m improving I’m happy with that.”
Sportette guest contributor Aaron S. Lee is managing editor of sport in Australasia for Future Publishing and sports columnist for Eurosport, and can be followed on Twitter @aaronshanelee