A Message to Those Who are “One-Step Below the Top” by Jacob Nelson

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Featured image by Jodi Hanagan


Generally in sport there seems to be a bigger emphasis on who the winners, medalists or top runners are. This can be seen across many sports, with track & field being no exception. This emphasis can create difficulties for those who are one-step below the top guys, with feelings of inadequacy being one that hits close to home for myself.

My name is Jacob, I’m mainly a 200m athlete. At youth and junior levels I regularly made finals in the 200m at the English Schools’ Championships and the England Athletics’ Age Group Championships, in the under-15 and under-17 age groups, with my highest placement being 5th. After every final I was left with the same thought, “why can’t I ever perform at their level” and “what makes them so much better than me”. I’m sure many other athletes in similar situations have thought of similar things. 

Progressing through the age groups, many of the athletes that placed above me in those finals have represented England/Scotland/Wales and/or Great Britain at a junior level, while I myself have not yet been selected for any nation at any age group. As the selections came and went, without a single one for myself, the feelings of inadequacy and being “not good enough” piled up, ultimately resulting in a few near-quitting experiences. 

These feelings seem totally valid, until you realise that you are still one of the best in the country at your event! It is truly difficult to not get caught up on what others are doing, but it is important to focus on your own journey. Junior success does not equal senior success after all. Some athletes who are getting selected for senior national teams this year have never represented at a junior level. One example (of which there are many more), in a sprinting context, is Eugene Amo-Dadzie who is currently flourishing as a senior athlete, currently placing top 30 UK all-time and top 40 UK all-time for the 60m and 100m respectively and representing England at the recent Loughborough International. 

Myself Running a 200m: Image by Sakura Creative Media

The take-home message for those in similar situations to myself, where you feel like you’re just one step below the top, is to remember that, although you may not have international glory straight away, it doesn’t define the athlete that you will become as a senior. You may just be taking a longer route to the top! You are still one of the best in the country at your event and the performances you do still put you in an infinitely small percentile of the total population. At times your journey will be difficult and you may experience set-backs, after all being a top-athlete is never without challenge. It’s in those times when the athlete you will become is shaped and defined. So don’t give up and give everything to your journey! 

I hope my story could help and Good Luck on your personal journey, 

Jacob 

Check out my Instagram

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