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Rising Star: Jessica Duncton, St Peter's School pupil and record-breaking hurdler

All Areas > Sport > Athletics

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Friday, 16th February 2024, 12:00

Jessica Duncton is a top sprint hurdler Jessica Duncton is a top sprint hurdler

Up-and-coming sprint hurdler Jessica Duncton is in the form of her life.

The teenager, who turned 18 in December, has just set a British record in the 60 metres hurdles for under-20s, racing home in a stunning 8.18 seconds.

And she did it on one of the biggest stages too, because she was competing at the England Open Indoor Championships in Sheffield at the weekend.

Jess, a pupil at St Peter’s School in Gloucester, was obviously delighted with that run. It was a standout performance but it’s fair to say that she has been showing a clean pair of heels to a lot of her rivals since she took up athletics some eight years or so ago.

So how did she get into the sport?

“It was when I was at Upton St Leonards Primary School,” she said. “My teacher saw that I was quite good at PE and suggested I joined Cheltenham Harriers, it was when I was in Year 5."

Initially she was a cross-country runner. but she readily admits that her favourite part of the event was the sprint finish.

The club also gave her the opportunity to try other disciplines and it was soon apparent that she was something of an all-round talent.

By the time she was 14 she was competing in the heptathlon which saw her tackling the 80m hurdles, 200m, 800m, javelin, shot, long jump and high jump.

And she was a very good multi-eventer.

“I was ranked top five consistently in the country in the heptathlon,” she said.

And as recently as 2022 she was crowned England indoor pentathlon under-17 champion. The pentathlon is the heptathlon minus the 200m and the javelin and that was clearly some performance.

But while she was ranked in the top five for the heptathlon, that wasn’t enough for Jess.

“I wanted to be the best at something,” she said. “Hurdling in the heptathlon was where I gained the most points.

“I’ve always had some speed, running is my strongest suit.”

And that speed is standing her in very good stead today as she concentrates solely on the sprint hurdles.

“All my focus is now on the 60m hurdles indoors and the 100m hurdles outdoors,” she explained.

And it’s a decision that is clearly paying dividends for Jess, who lives in Cheltenham and these days competes for Birchfield Harriers.

“I represented Great Britain in the summer,” she said. “I competed in the European age group championships in Jerusalem.

“I was seventh in the 100m hurdles final for the under-20s, I was the only Brit to reach the final.”

She’d already represented England by then and was back in an England vest at the start of the month, when she finished fifth in the senior women’s 60m hurdles at the International Flanders Athletics Meeting in Gent, a meeting which is part of the prestigious World Athletics Indoor Tour.

She ran a PB of 8.27 seconds – a time she smashed at the weekend of course – and she and her coach Paul Gripton are hoping she can continue her blistering form into the UK Indoor Championships in Birmingham at the weekend.

“My coach has got me peaking at just the right time,” said Jess, who heads up the M5 to Redditch or Bromsgrove four times a week to train.

She’s also does strength and conditioning work in a gym twice a week so if she’s competing on a Saturday, the athletics is seven days a week.

Her mum Kalina is her biggest supporter and she’s also very grateful for the backing she has received from CASS & Friends, the Gloucestershire sporting charity that has done so much for so many over the past few years.

That charity is run by Fiona Carter, who keeps a close eye on all her athletes, past and present, and she’ll certainly be looking out for Jess’ results as she prepares for the upcoming outdoor season.

Jess has a best time of 13.4 in the 100m hurdles – wind assisted her best is 13.32 – and she’s ranked number one in the UK for under-20s.

It always helps when you’re good at something, of course, but what is it about hurdles that Jess likes so much?

“I like the fact that there is always something to work on,” she said. “There’s always room to improve. I’m not at my peak and there’s so much I can do that will help me to get better.

“My strength is my start, I’m always first to the first hurdle but then sometimes I switch off. I think the race is won and people can go past me, that’s something I’m working on.”

And she’ll have more time to work on everything once she’s taken her A-levels in the summer.

“The dream is to go into athletics full-time,” she said. “Since I was young my dream has always been to compete in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 2028.”

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Jessica Duncton wants to compete in the Olympics in 2028

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