In July of 2012, Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke became a worldwide sensation when a video of her playful pre-race warm-up routine at the IAAF World Junior Championships went viral on YouTube. Born in Sydney, Australia, Jenneke began training as a hurdler at the age of 10 at the Cherrybrook Athletics Club, under the tutelage of coach Mick Zisti.
Jenneke competed in the Australian Junior Championships in March of 2010, finishing first in the 100m hurdles and helping to break the Australian record in the women’s sprint medley relay. Four months later, she represented Australia at the Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore, where she won the silver medal in the 100m hurdles. At the Australian Junior Championships in 2011, Jenneke finished first in the hurdles in the Under-20 group and, in April of that year, competed at the 89th Australian Athletics Championships, where she finished third, behind world champion Sally Pearson.
Since the video of Jenneke’s appearance at the World Junior Championships exploded on YouTube, garnering over 26 million views and making the 19-year-old an instant celebrity, she has appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and ranked tenth on AskMen.com’s list of 99 Most Desirable Women of 2013. She also was featured on The Tonight Show and on Top Gear Festival Sydney, where she raced a Nissan GT-R.
In 2012, Jenneke spent several months in Tanzania in an orphanage school doing volunteer work, and in 2013, she was the Ambassador for the City 2 Surf Westpac Life Saving Rescue Helicopter Service, the Run for the Hills Charity and the Daniel Berry Campaign. She was also involved with the White Ribbon Campaign and is an ambassador for NSW Cancer Council for their inaugural “March Charge” Campaign.
In addition to continuing to compete — she won a pair of gold medals at Australia’s 2013 University Games, achieved a personal best time of 13.23 and won the Queensland Track Classic in 2014, and placed 5th in the 100m hurdles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games — Jenneke is currently studying mechatronics at Sydney University. For more information, follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
What were you like as a child? And how did you initially become interested in hurdling?
From what I can remember I was a pretty active, happy and curious child. My parents tell me that I have loved running and jumping things since I was a toddler, but my first memories of hurdling was at club competition at the Cherrybrook Little Athletics centre when I was nine. I loved it from my first race because I remember thinking I could fly!
Where were you when you first heard about your warm-up video going viral? What was your reaction?
I was in Europe travelling with my sister when I first heard that there was a video and that it was going viral. To be honest I didn’t think too much about it, except that I thought it was pretty funny that so many people were interested in watching it (it had about 60,000 views at that stage).
How did your life change in the weeks and months following your newfound celebrity?
The video really didn’t affect me at all because I was travelling at first and really didn’t know too much about what was going on and then I was home in Australia for a couple of weeks, busily catching up with family and friends before I travelled to Tanzania to do voluntary work in an orphanage school. I didn’t have a lot of access to the internet in Tanzania so I guess I missed most of the hype.
The biggest changes since then have just been the amazing personal opportunities to do some pretty cool stuff like the Sports Illustrated shoot and Top Gear and to have the opportunities to help others through work with charities.
Aside from your now-famous warm-up routine, how do you prepare for a race?
Most of the preparation for a race obviously takes place in the weeks leading up to the race, with sessions on the track and in the gym. On the day of competition, I just like to stay relaxed and enjoy myself. I always do a good warm-up session on the track before the race, by the time I reach the start line I am warmed up and excited to race.
In recent years, under coach Mick Zisti, the Cherrybrook Athletics Club has become a dominant force in sprinting and hurdling. What do you feel is the secret to Mr. Zisti’s success?
I think Mick has just got the recipe right, when it comes to coaching he has a good eye and is a great technician, an intuitive coach and he creates an environment that his athletes want to keep coming back to, which ultimately keeps athletes in the sport.
What’s your favourite type of sandwich?
It depends on my mood, but peanut butter and Nutella is pretty hard to beat.
Do you feel as though you’re on pace to be a part of the 2016 Australian Olympic team?
To be perfectly honest, I think it is a little early to tell. I hope I am, it would be an amazing experience. For a hurdler I am still quite young, so I hope I will build in speed and power over the next eighteen months and hopefully earn myself a spot on the team to Rio.