Jessica Kneebone: Like Mother Like Daughter
Story by: Louise Evans
Only a small number of people can claim the elusive and enigmatic Marie-Jose Perec as a friend. Even fewer can boast they have beaten Frankie Fredricks out of the blocks. Only one has the speed and confidence to predict that this weekend she will break two sprinting records that have stood for 19 years.
She is Jessica Kneebone, one of the best connected and most talented young athletes in Australia. Jessica is the seven-year-old daughter of Nova Peris-Kneebone, the Olympic hockey champion turned world championship sprinter.
Blessed with natual speed and enthused by a 14-week trip with her parents to the European track and field circuit and the Athens world championships, Jessica has followed her mum's famous footsteps onto the track. Last week whe won four events at the Northern Territory district athletics championships. This weekend Jessica has another full program at the Darwin State titles, where she's competing in the 70m, 100m, 200m and long jump.
But it is the under-seven Northern Territory 100m and 200m records held by her mother since 1978 that Jessica really wants. "Jessie got out the record book and circled my name and my times and told me she's going to break my records; she probably will, too," an amused Peris-Kneebone said.
In her mother's footsteps:
Jessica Kneebone, with her proud parents,
Nova and Sean
"She is very close to my records and she is a determined little bugger. It is healthy she wants to beat my records. But I will never hear the end of it when she does.
"She loves athletics at the moment. She tried hockey for a while and decided whe didn't like it, and that was that. Now it's athletics. She comes training with me. She warms up with me and does the drills. She knows a lot of very famous people because of our time overseas and wants to be just like them. There is no stopping her.
If she wants to run, that's fine. As long as she is happy and healthy. She might do it for a while and then take up BMX riding. Who knows? She's still a little girl."
Peris-Kneebone returned home from her first full international season as a sprinter two weeks ago and immediately installed Jessica back in school in Darwin, where she grew up. After 3-1/2 months on the road as her tutor, she was mindful of her daughter's need for the stability of a classroom and to be surrounded by her friends.
During the northern summer, the world's best athletes were Jessica's playmates. She was befriended by Perec, France's Olympic 200m and 400m champion, and charmed by Fredericks, Namibia's 200m Olympic and World championship silver medallist. When Fredricks came to say good-bye on their last night in Athens, he challenged Jessica to a race in the hotel corridor.
Frankie let Jessica beat him and she jumped up and down yelling 'I beat Frankie out of the blocks'. It was hilarious," Peris-Kneebone said.
Watching Jessica compete at district athletics last week was a welcome break for Peris-Kneebone. Instead of being on duty as Young Australian of the year, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention on the Republic, Olympic champion or international sprinter, she was able to relax and be a normal mother.
"I got really choked up when I saw Jessie running. When she won I was so excited and proud. My aunty said Jessie runs exactly like me when I was young. But she has her own characteristics, too.
"After the Olympics last year I went to her school concert and I got really choked up when they played the national anthem. The other parents must have thought I was mad, but the last time I'd heard the anthem I was standing on the medal podium."
While people are already calling Jessica a second Nova, her mother shies away from the comparison. "She is not another little Nova, she said. "She's very much her own person. She's Jessica Kneebone. Thankfully, there is only one of her."
Cool Running Australia 22.09.97. Reproduced with permission from the author, Louise Evans. This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 12.09.97.
Photos: 1 by Andrew Taylor, Sydney Morning Herald; 2: Cool Running Australia.