Jess Sparke – feature

Jess set to cause some Sparkes in the National Cross

Few final year university students could find the time or energy to consistently perform on the domestic and international cross-country scene, but Woodford Green with Essex Ladies runner, Jess Sparke has been passing every test with first-class marks this year, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 22-year-old St Mary’s University strength and conditioning student has registered a plethora of scintillating runs this season and starts the Saucony English National cross-country Championships in Leeds later this month as one of the top contenders.

Euro bronze

Ahead of the Roundhay Park event on February 27th, the Mick Woods-coached athlete has already gathered on her impressive 2009/10 athletic resume, the European under23 cross-country Championship bronze medal from Dublin last December.

Prior to this outstanding achievement, the sister of talented running duo Katherine and Ronnie, placed second-fastest in the English cross relays and third in the Liverpool leg of the McCain UK Challenge incorporating the European trials, behind newly-crowned continental senior champion and tenth-placer, Hayley Yelling and Freya Murray, respectively.

After her scorching run in the Irish capital, Sparke then went onto place seventh in the BUPA Great Edinburgh international, third in the McCain UK Challenge Antrim international leg and took the Southern cross-country Championship title.

Pleasing performances

Sparke explained: “I’m really pleased with the results I’ve had so far. Obviously, the European’s were very pleasing and Edinburgh was a big step up for me. This has been a significant year for me as a senior.”

“Training’s been going well.” Sparke continued. “I’ve not been on high mileage really, just focusing on the quality sessions. I train with the St Mary’s squad, which is a great environment and also with Kat and Ronnie and also Steph Twell; the three-time European junior cross Champion, at weekends in Aldershot.”

Looking ahead

Evidently highly satisfied with her season so far and in confident mood, Sparke now intends to medal in the National where she will face stiff opposition from European senior cross-country Champion, Hayley Yelling-Higham and Twell.

A previous under-17 and junior winner of the event, Sparke revealed: “It’s a very strong field but I’d like to get in the mix; a medal would be nice.”

Sparke attributes her achievements down to “the hard work, commitment and advice that Mick gives me.”

Future aims

Next up will be the World cross-country Championship trials in Birmingham next month; with aspirations of possibly gaining the notoriously-tough selection for the global event itself in Poland.

As for the rest of 2010, Sparke hopes to break her track personal bests and achieve the qualifying standard for the Commonwealth Games (New Delhi, in October) in the 3,000m steeplechase and the 5,000m.

With Sparke flying in the form of her life, we could well see all her aims achieved in true firework style in the not too distant future.