February 22, 2008 / 12:20 AM / 9 years ago

World champion Jana Rawlinson in juggling act

<p>World 400m hurdles champion Jana Rawlinson of Australia answers a question during an interview with Reuters at Beijing Sport University February 4, 2008.Claro Cortes IV</p>

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Every working mother knows what it's like to clear a few obstacles as part of the daily routine. Only a rare few choose to do it at full speed.

Australia's Jana Rawlinson, twice the world champion in the 400 meters hurdles, is one such woman.

The 25-year-old juggles motherhood with her job of running round in circles and skimming the top of hurdles and she is one of the favorites to win gold at the Beijing Olympics.

Rawlinson was strongly fancied to win in Athens four years ago before a knee injury ruined her chances. She underwent surgery a week before the Games and could manage only fifth in the final, competing under her maiden name Pittman.

As in her chosen profession, her life has gone full circle since then. She married British hurdler Chris Rawlinson in 2006 and the couple had a son later that year.

Marriage and motherhood did nothing to dampen her enthusiasm for athletics and her determination to win Olympic gold.

She captured her second world title at Osaka last year and says she is determined to make amends for the disappointment of Athens when she lines up on the blocks at Beijing in August.

"Beijing is my Games," she recently told reporters on a visit to the Chinese capital.

"I thought Athens was going to be my Games, obviously that disappointment has stayed in my heart the whole time and it definitely means I'm going to be more nervous for this Olympics, but I'm also going to be more motivated."

With her long legs and slender build, Rawlinson is perfectly built for hurdling but she carries the added burden of running in the formidable footsteps of Cathy Freeman.

RELISHING CHALLENGE

It is a role that few athletes would have welcomed after watching the pressure Freeman had to deal with at the Sydney Olympics but Rawlinson is relishing the challenge.

Rawlinson grew up idolizing Freeman and once queued for more than an hour just to get her autograph though unwittingly she played a part in helping Freeman make up her mind to retire when she beat her in 2002.

Rawlinson started out as a runner but was persuaded by a former coach to try hurdles when she was still a teenager and, although she fell flat on her face the first time, she was hooked straight away.

She became world junior champion, won the Commonwealth Games title as a teenager then took her first senior global title in Paris in 2003.

A self-confessed drama queen, Rawlinson's fixation with her sport knows no bounds. She is always searching for that extra ounce of motivation and never seems to be far from controversy.

Like a lot of athletes these days, she sports a tattoo, but there is no lover's name or dove on her design.

Rawlinson's inspiration is a bumblebee. "Aerodynamically the bumblebee cannot fly but it doesn't know this so it goes on flying anyway," she once explained.

COACH DROPPED

After she won the Commonwealth title in Manchester in 2002, Rawlinson dropped her coach to link up with Phil King, the husband and coach of Debbie Flintoff-King, Australia's 1988 400 hurdles Olympic champion.

King immediately went to work on Rawlinson's technique, changing her stride pattern from 16 to 15 steps, a strategy filled with risk because it meant she had to lengthen each step by about 15 centimeters and alternate her leading leg.

Heading into the 2003 world championships in Paris, the favorite was Russian Yulia Pechyonkina.

Rawlinson psyched herself up for the race by watching the film Rocky IV, explaining to reporters "this is the one where he beats the Russian."

A back injury forced her to miss the 2005 world championships in Helsinki and she was reprimanded by Australian team officials after becoming involved in a "catfight" with her team mate Tamsyn Lewis before the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne but still won the gold.

She threatened to leave Australia because she was fed up with her image, but was back reveling in the spotlight after winning her second world title in Japan last year and believes motherhood has provided her with all the extra incentive she needs for Beijing.

"It's definitely enhanced my career, I'm more level-headed," she said.

"I have more perspective on life. I still have as much passion for running as I always have. It just means now I'm running for my family as well as myself."

Editing by Dave Thompson

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