Maccabiah: Racing back to her roots

Top British long-distance runner Jo Ankier can't wait to compete at the Maccabiah.

jo ankier marathon 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jo ankier marathon 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
She's a world-class athlete, a gorgeous model and loves reading philosophy. Now Jo Ankier is preparing to strutt her stuff at this summer's Maccabiah Games. The 26-year-old is the former British record holder for the 1,500 meter and 3,000m steeplechase and ran for her country in the 2005 IAAF World Championship and the 2006 Commonwealth Games. However, Ankier's first taste of international competition came when she ran at the North American J.C.C. Maccabi Games aged just 13. "The J.C.C. Maccabi games helped instigate my international career," recalled the north Londoner who hails from the suburb of Edgware. Thirteen years later, the phenomenal runner is looking "to give back to Maccabi" by competing Israel in the 18th Maccabiah Games next month. Besides making her mark with her athletic ability as she runs in the half marathon, participants and fans at the 18th Maccabiah may find it hard to take their eyes off the star of the Adidas 2005 Ladies of the Track calendar, who also appeared in Britain's bid video for the 2012 Olympics alongside British stars David Beckham and Amir Kahn. But Ankier does not consider herself a "sex symbol" and maintains that all of the modeling that she has done has been part of her contract with Adidas. Ankier was happy with the progress of her professional career until last summer, when it came to a crashing halt. Considered to be a definite choice, she was left out of the 2008 GB squad for the Beijing Olympics. Despite finishing third in the Olympic trials in July last year, the third and final steeplechase place was given to Hattie Dean. "I was aghast… I had worked as hard as I could, and did everything I could to achieve the standards I needed," said Ankier who had fully dedicated her life to training in the year leading up to the Olympic games. "I was full time, which usually involves two to three sessions a day, running once in the morning, once in the evening, and in the middle of the day I would probably be in the gym or doing hurdle work," Ankier added. At the time Ankier said she felt cheated by selectors who considered Dean a better prospect for Beijing as she had run faster than Ankier in previous races even though she was injured for the trials. In the end Dean did not recover for the Olympic race itself. However, Ankier has not fully given up on her Olympic aspirations. "It is something I still have to decide over the next couple of years. It's something I want to do," she said. But for now, she is happy to be taking the year off and is "enjoying the prospect of doing the Maccabiah games." While balancing her athletics, Ankier has managed to take on a job at UK TV channel Sky Sports News as a sports journalist - an interest she says, "I have always had academically." In fact, Ankier admitted that in ten years from now, she sees herself being fully committed to being a sports journalist. "I see it as a long term ambition," she said. This top British runner is more than just an athlete - she's also a mathlete, as well as a philosophy enthusiast. Ankier studied physics and philosophy at Nottingham University. "I enjoy reading philosophy and just understanding things about life," she said. And her talents don't stop there - she's also a promising musician. "I'm quite into music. Growing up I played the cello to quite a high standard… there was one point where I had to decide whether to take cello further, but my running was just starting to take off, and I chose running over cello, but it's still a passion of mine," Ankier explained. The Maccabiah games are an opportunity for Jewish athletes to reconnect with their roots. In the past, "I was an athlete who happened to be Jewish" as oppose to a "Jewish athlete," said Ankier who is now considering the possibility of becoming the latter now that she is not competing professionally. Her connection to Judaism is rooted in her upbringing. "I'm not from an openly religious family," she noted. "We do keep some of the traditions and the major festivals… it's definitely an important part of my upbringing." Over the past few years this Jewish beauty has dated outside of the tribe. "When I was an athlete, I was traveling a lot and hardly mixed with any Jewish people. It's easier to mix with people who are living a similar lifestyle," she said. But now that she is getting older and has moved back to London, she has aspirations to marry from within the faith. "I think it's probably likely that I will marry someone Jewish. It's definitely something I would like to do, but it's not something I want to force. It would be ideal," she said. After years spent away from home, Ankier is "enjoying being around Jewish friends and the familiarity of it." Come this summer, the men of the Maccabiah will have to play their cards right if they are to catch one of the brightest prosepects the community has produced.