For Dutch athlete Fleur Jong, the path to Tokyo 2020 glory is all about making choices.
After smashing two world records last year in the T62 100m at the 10th Para International Meeting in Leverkusen, Germany and in the T62 long jump at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix in Paris, Jong is now solely focussing on the long jump in her bid to represent her country in Tokyo 2020.
Jong, who is largely known as a sprinter and competed in the 100m and 200m at Rio 2016, says making the switch was a logical choice.
“The Paralympic sport has evolved so immensely. You can't afford to spread your chances. You have to decide. You have to make a choice,” she explained to Tokyo 2020.
“Everyone's getting better. So you can't just bet on two horses. That's just not smart. Then you're going to end up with nothing.”
At the moment, Jong is assessing her performances with her coach Guido Bonsen to find the best strategy in the lead up to the Games.
"We're trying to change goals, change mindsets kind of and change the way in which we approach these things, because that's the only way we feel we can really find the right path for me."
"Last year, I think we found the right path. I improved all my PBs, so that's going well. So now is going to be tricky because what things are we going to change and what things are we going to keep? Because I've never had such a good year before. So we're gonna evaluate the past year, so I'm really curious to find out what we are going to do."
Fleur Jong long jump
Picture by Hélène Wiesenhaan
Long jumping ahead
Jong's love affair with the long jump began just more than a month before she decided to compete at the Grand Prix in August 2019.
"I did some really short approaches and tried to jump a bit and do a little bit of a hitch kick and do something with my arms. And after doing that a few times, my coach was like, wait a second, do that again, because that was pretty nice. You're doing like the preparation for the jump."
"And then we just started jumping every week. I really enjoyed it. And that's always a great trigger for me if I enjoy it, I'm going to do it. That was July 2019."
And then in August, she won gold in a world-record breaking leap of 5.21m - an astounding feat for someone who has just barely scratched the surface of the discipline.
Even Jong herself had been surprised about her quick rise in long jump. Now currently the no 1 seed in the T62/64 (combined class), she believes all the elements came together at the right time for her.
“You need the talent. You need the right event. You need the right coach. You need to read through equipment like everything needs to come together. And that only happens like once in I don't know what time frame and I'm just glad it happened to me,” she said.
Whilst 2019 brought a lot of accolades for Jong, just a year before she went thru her second major surgery that almost ended her career as a sprinter or as a long jumper to begin with. It was a procedure that was meant to correct her right stump which had been plaguing her with issues during her athletic career.
“Well, I had to quit almost because physically my stump just wasn't recovering and we weren't sure if it would ever recover in such a good way that I would be able to put pressure on my legs the way I used to do with athletics.”
But Jong was not quick to give up. To motivate herself, she and her team started documenting her progress daily, and looked at her recovery as a whole.
"We kept on rehabilitating day-by-day, week-by-week by month-by-month. If you look at the progress you make every month, it's huge. But if you look at it every day, it's kind of small so it's hard to keep motivated. By looking back in, one at a time, each time I could see how much progress I had been making already. And that just really motivated me to keep going.”
Picture by Mika Volkmann
The importance of sport
Jong, who's been a double amputee since she was 16 years of age after contracting a blood infection, remains grateful for what the sport of athletics has given her.
“I think it gave me a purpose. I was first trying to get back to my old life [before amputation], but I was not the old me anymore. So I was constantly confronted with that fact. And I was not confronted with that fact anymore because I found a new sport. I found athletics.”
After losing her legs, Jong took up athletics after an invitation in 2014 from two-time Paralympian Marlou van Rhijn to a Paralympic Talent Day in the Netherlands.
And in just three years after taking up the sport, Jong won bronze in the T44m 200m at the 2015 World Championships in Doha and again in the same event in 2017.
She is also currently no. 3 in the 100m event and has also broken van Rhijn's 100m record at the 2019 Leverkusen Para International Meet after clocking in 12.78 seconds.
For Jong, athletics is one area of her life where she is in complete control.
"Athletics is the sport where the athlete actually has a lot of control. So I have a lot of control myself and I've been in situations where I'm totally out of control by getting ill and within surgery and being out of control is really not something I like. So I guess that's something that triggers me in athletics," Jong pointed out.
Eyeing Tokyo 2020
Whilst she continues her preparations for Tokyo 2020, Jong feels very proud to be part of a global movement that puts a spotlight on Para athletes like her.
"It feels great to be in an environment where it is just about sports. We all have stories. We've all had challenges that we overcome."
"In the moment at the competition, no matter what you've been through, no matter where you are, no matter where you come from, this is the time where you're going to prove that you are the fastest or when you're going to be the furthest jumper. It is just about that. And it's nothing more and nothing less than that. And that's really, really what I like."
Jong believes that she will be able to secure her place next year and has a very clear objective of what she wants to accomplish.
"Yes of course, I'm placed number one and number three, I cannot really complain. I think I'll get my spot. It's going to be fine. But I have to be good at the Games because that's when it counts."
"Many people use team seems to forget, but I only have one major championship medal and I have a collection of fourth places. So let's skip the fourth place this time and get into those medals."
Come next year, there is one thing she is looking forward to the most when she lands in Tokyo.
"I want to feel that Paralympic track. I've seen pictures. I've heard stories. It looks fast. It looks impressive. I want to feel it for myself like 'What is it?' What is it like to be there in Tokyo in my venue, like that's going to be my place."
Jong has a message to all those who still doubt the importance of the Paralympic Games.
"We're not just the little sister of the pair of the Olympic Games anymore. We're there and we're next to the Olympic Games and we're going to show that we are."
Jong's resilience has put her at the pinnacle of sport and with confidence like this, we may yet to see what records this proud Para athlete will break or even the medals she'll win next year when she steps on to that track at the Paralympic Games.