Australian marathon champion Jessica Stenson has not given up hope of competing at the Paris Olympics despite being due to give birth just under 12 months earlier.
But the heart of the Commonwealth Games gold medallist is primarily set on cherishing motherhood and, in another indication that Paris 2024 isn’t the be-all and end-all, she can see herself slipping on green and gold at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics at the age of 40.
Stenson and her husband Dylan, a competitive 800-metre runner, are expecting to welcome their second child in September, almost four years after the birth of their beloved boy Billy.
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They announced the news on social media last week, saying in a post accompanied by a family portrait that Billy had “started telling his mates” he was about to become “a big brother”.
“I know that I want to get back into running and hopefully representing Australia. I just don’t know what the timeframe will look like,” Stenson told Wide World of Sports.
“There are a lot of marathons in Japan between February and April, and some in Europe in that timeframe, so if I was going to qualify for the Paris Olympics I’d need to target one of those events, which would be a seven-month turnaround,” the 35-year-old added with a laugh.
“You just don’t know after pregnancy and childbirth whether that’s possible physically, but also whether mentally and emotionally you’ll be ready for it, and logistically with two kids.
“So I’m just going to maintain a really open mind and know that if I don’t get the opportunity to chase that Paris OIympic goal, there’s the Commonwealth Games around the corner in 2026 and then even the LA Olympics in 2028.”
Stenson won last year’s Commonwealth Games marathon in her first run in Australian colours as a mum.
The South Australian produced another tremendous run at the New York City Marathon in November, finishing ninth in 2:27:27.
Stenson and her husband, eager for another child and a little mate for Billy, decided after the New York City Marathon to try for another kid.
“I know it’s always tricky in the sporting world when you’ve got major events around the corner, like the Olympics coming up in Paris in 2024, but you just have to follow your heart,” Stenson said.
“We really did want to have a second child, so we’re fortunate it’s all happening.
“We’ll just see what happens with running, get through pregnancy and childbirth, and hopefully I’ll be in a physical and mental space to be able to get back into it and run at the highest level again at some point.”
When Stenson and her coach Adam Didyk toss up which marathon to race in a bid for a Paris Olympics qualifying time, among a long list of options will be Osaka, Tokyo, Nagoya, Rome, Rotterdam and London.
The Paris Olympics marathon qualifying time is 2:26:50, but the stakes are actually much higher after Sinead Diver (2:21:34 in Valencia) and Lisa Weightman (2:23:15 in Osaka) ran sizzling times early in the qualification window.
Diver broke the national marathon record and Weightman ran the third-fastest Australian time in history.
The feats of the 46-year-old Diver and 44-year-old Weightman have proven to Stenson, who says she’s “incredibly inspired” by her dear friends, that “age is no barrier”.
Stenson is confident she can lower her personal best of 2:25:15, set in the 2021 Perth Marathon.
Having said that, the two-time Olympian is wary of thinking too rigidly about running.
“It just sets you up for a tough time if you have a really fixed mindset going into childbirth and having a newborn,” Stenson said.
“I think to really enjoy that newborn experience it’s dangerous to have fixed goals.
“You just have to go into it thinking, ‘If I feel like getting back into training I’ll roll with it and just keep working from week to week’.
“Motherhood has taught me that you can have all of these grand plans, but they can change very quickly. Logistically it’s tough, and you just don’t know with young ones with illness and sleep patterns. We were fortunate with Billy that I was able to handle that newborn process pretty well, but I know from speaking to others and hearing other stories that it’s not always that straightforward.”
As well as contesting another Olympics and shaving several minutes from her marathon personal best, another goal Stenson wants to achieve is finishing in the top eight of a world championships marathon.
“I think it’s nice going into that phase again of pregnancy when you do feel motivated to chase goals on the other end of it, rather than feeling like you’re going into it because running’s not working out for you,” Stenson said.
“I actually love that now I’ve got a bit of an opportunity to cross-train and take the foot off the pedal in training and give myself a bit of a mental and physical break from that, so I’ll be fired up on the other end to chase some goals again.
“I’ve got more to give.”
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