Jonnie Peacock discusses switching on Cambridge’s Christmas lights, Strictly Come Dancing and returning to the track
The Paralympic gold medallist reveals who he has been supporting in this year’s BBC show
Jonnie Peacock said turning on the Christmas lights in his home city was “awesome” as The Big Switch-On brought the festive feeling to Cambridge.
A huge crowd gathered to watch the Paralympic double gold medal-winning sprinter press the plunger on the balcony of the Guildhall, alongside mayor Nigel Gawthrope.
It followed a day of festivities, featuring live music and performances, organised by Cambridge BID.
Afterwards, Jonnie spoke to the Cambridge Independent – which sponsored the Big Switch-On again this year – about the experience, his thoughts on Strictly Come Dancing and his plans on the track this season.
“It was really, really cool. It was my first switch-on,” he said.
“I am going to be biased but it is my favourite city. I was born here and have a lot of memories here but going to other cities has made me realise how lucky we are to have such a great place. To get involved in something like was awesome.”
The 25-year-old, who was born in Cambridge and grew up in Shepreth, enjoyed sharing the stage outside the Guildhall with the city’s mayor.
“He’s a cool guy. I want to see a picture of him on his Harley. You wouldn’t necessarily expect that of a Cambridge mayor!” said Jonnie, who will spend Christmas with his long-term girlfriend, fellow Paralympic athlete Sally Brown.
“I’m going up north, near Newcastle, with my girlfriend’s parents. All her family will be there so I will have to sit there and behave!” he joked.
Jonnie said he has been enjoying following the latest season of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, after competing in the show last year.
Partnered with Oti Mabuse, he made it to the ninth show – the famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom special – before being eliminated.
“Most Saturdays I’m doing something now but I’ve been trying to catch it on record and it’s been a really good year,” he said.
And while he’s wishing fellow Paralympian Lauren Steadman well as she competes in the show this year, he has good reason for supporting former England cricketer Graeme Swann, who made it through a dance-off on Sunday night at this year’s Blackpool special to stay in the competition with Jonnie’s former partner Oti.
“I’ve got to be biased towards Oti. I’m supporting Oti and Graeme Swann this year. I really like Stacey [Dooley] as well. She’s got a lot of potential and is someone who is having a good journey so I think she has a good shout. Strictly is getting good fun. It’s nice once you’ve been a part of it – you get to understand all the hard work that goes into it.”
But he won’t miss the Strictly gruelling preparation each week.
“You don’t miss that element of it – the really hard training and beating yourself up constantly because you are forgetting steps. Then on Monday you’ve got to forget them and remember some more. I don’t miss the anxiety of that. But you miss the Friday and Saturday nights.
“You just do it – you’ve got to throw yourself in and have fun.”
Jonnie was just five when he contracted meningitis, which killed some of the tissue in his right leg, forcing doctors to amputate it below the knee.
His family had been told he might not survive but he made a remarkable recovery and became interested in running after being pointed to a Paralympic sports talent day when he asked about sport at the hospital that fitted his prosthetic leg.
After his first international race at the Paralympic World Cup in May 2012, he went on to set a new 100-metre record in amputee sprinting in the US, with 10.85sec, in June 2012. The record was subsequently beaten, but by that stage Jonnie had Paralympic gold to his name, after winning the 100mm T44 final at the London games. He was given an MBE in 2013 and successfully defended his Paralympic title at the 2016 summer games in Rio.
Now, after taking a year out to recharge mentally following seven years of competitions, the Doddington sprinter has his eye on more track glory.
“I’ve just started back,” he said. “I had a year out of athletics last year although I came back for one competition to make sure I didn’t completely forget how to run I guess and see what kind of shape I left myself in!
“Now we’re back into winter training so it’s about four or five months of really hard work and a couple of indoor races, maybe in February, and the summer season starts from May. Then we’ve got the world championships in November, so it’s going to be a long season but hopefully a good one.
“It’s going OK but I hurt my knee a little bit. I did about three weeks then hurt my knee so was out for about two weeks. I was meant to be on a plane to Japan on the Tuesday and on the Monday I caught my leg in training and twisted my knee. So I couldn’t go out and race in the end.
“After two weeks I’m still coming back from that but there’s a lot of other stuff I’ve been doing. I’ve done a lot of single leg work in those period, so I’m happy.”
He is not expecting to compete before February.
“Normally we wouldn’t race this time of the season. The event in Japan was more of a showpiece event – a bit of fun,” he explained.
But the long-term aim is clear – a hat-trick of golds.
“Paralympics 2020 is the goal. Everything builds towards that and it’s what we’re all aiming for. You want to be there. Three would be nice but we’ll see…”