By Stuart Miller-Davis
It was 2012 when an ankle injury sidelined a 22-year-old Farah Jacques. Forced to pause competing in track and field for a year and a half, she realized an itch for a specific goal – becoming an Olympian.
“When I twisted my ankle, I didn’t do any track for a long time,” she said in a phone interview in July.
“That made me realize there’s something missing in my life. After I saw the Olympic Games on TV, I was like ‘Oh my god I want to do that and see myself on TV and run to represent Canada.’”
Jacques played basketball growing up and through high school before eventually realizing it wasn’t her sport. Her career in track and field begun thanks to a friend, who told her she should give it a shot.
“I didn’t know what track really (was),” she recalled. “After that I tried it and just loved it. I was winning and it became like my second family and I felt good.”
Jacques achieved what she had dreamt during her 2012 hiatus just four years later by competing with the women’s 4×100 metre relay team at the Rio 2016 Games.
“It was awesome,” she said. “I worked a lot to get there. My first goal was to go for the 200m, but I missed the standard by 0.01 and I was not happy about that. When they told me I would be on the 4×100 (Olympic) team I was so excited.”
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Her hard work didn’t end there as she had to earn her spot as a standout among the six runners who were chosen. She would end up running the lead-off leg for Canada in its heat and the relay final.
“When I put my feet on the track for the first time it was a gift,” she said. “I can’t explain how I felt, how crazy it was.”
Jacques has been working to again represent Canada as an Olympian at the upcoming Tokyo Games. At the upcoming Olympics, which have been postponed by the pandemic, Jacques is attempting to compete in a different discipline: the hurdles.
Jacques was a hurdler when she first got involved with track and field before switching to sprinting when she no longer had a coach whose specialty was hurdling. Fast forward to three years ago and Jacques partnered with her current coach, who suggested she return to the sport.
“It was different,” Jacques said of getting back into hurdles. “In high school, I wasn’t really focused on the technique. I was just running, jumping to finish a race but now it’s more serious and really focuses on the technique and how I get through the hurdle.”
Hugh Conlin is Jacques’ coach who reintroduced her to hurdling in a competitive setting. He’s been a coach with the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club since 1976.
“She’s been very successful very quickly,” Conlin said. “To be successful in the hurdles you have to have speed and she has the sprint speed. She’s a very good athlete and she learns very quickly. She’s very focused and disciplined and those are the reasons she’s come so far so fast.”
By nature, the hurdles have been a change for Jacques, compared to running the 100m or 200m sprints.
“With the hurdle you need to be really aggressive,” she said. “Even if you have a barrier in front of you, you need to run like there is nothing there.”
Jacques’ goal of reaching the Olympics a second time has been challenged by the pandemic. She was training at a camp in Louisiana when the news broke that the Olympics and, for her sport, its qualification would be postponed another year.
“At the beginning it was really hard to have no goal and to just train because this is the biggest goal for every athlete to go to the Olympics this year,” Jacques said. “It was really tough to adapt to the fact that there will be no Olympics, but I still need to keep training to stay in shape.”
Jacques was shutoff from track access when lockdown measures were imposed. For a hurdler, having no access to a track or hurdles prevented her from practising technical aspects of the sport. In the meantime, she’s focussed on the fitness components, Conlin told the Sportspage. For the 30-year-old, who in all likelihood is facing her final shot at the Games, she’s not going to let the metaphorical barricades get in the way.
“I’m a person who always works hard and never gives up,” she said. “The fact that I (already) made the Olympics, (that) makes everything possible for me.”