For someone grasping a golden ticket to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Aussie hurdler Michelle Jenneke is surprisingly humble. “Growing up I was always a realist,” Michelle explained. “I never thought I would be in a position where I would be capable of going to the Olympic Games. It’s only been in the last two years or so that I decided this was a realistic goal for me.”

The 23-year old created a global stir when her spontaneous warm-up routine for the 100-metre hurdles at the 2012 World Junior Championships – an exuberant dance with a bounce, a shimmy, and a touch of jazz-hands – went viral. Michelle’s got no problem with her new nickname: the Dancing Hurdler. “I think it’s a pretty cool title, to be honest,” she laughed. “In athletics it can be difficult to get that sort of exposure and it’s been really great for me, the fact that this video has gone out to the whole world. It’s opened up so many doors for me and I’m so grateful for that.”

It’s not the only pre-race ritual Michelle partakes in, however. “When I compete for Australia I always have an Aussie-themed outfit that I wear,” she said. “It includes green and gold ribbons in my hair, an Australian flag tattoo on my hip, odd socks (one yellow, one green) and also my nails painted green and gold – just to bring that patriotic vibe.”

It would be remiss, however, to attribute Michelle’s success to lucky charms alone. The young athlete has been competing almost her entire life: taking up Little Athletics at age nine, she was already involved in dancing, gymnastics, soccer and basketball. “I was 16 when I qualified for the Youth Olympic Games and 17 when I actually competed,” she said. “It was the first national title I had won and before that I didn't really see myself as much of an ‘athlete’. Even in the lead-up to the Youth Games I had said to mum that I shouldn’t be going because I didn’t think I was good enough. I certainly surprised myself when I went over there and ended up coming second.”

Even now, despite her rigorous training regimen, Michelle’s a natural multi-tasker – she is also studying for an engineering degree in mechatronics at the University of Sydney. “I was drawn to that area of study,” she said. “I’m very much into the maths and science side of things. The degree’s a combination of mechanical and electrical engineering and it also includes a lot of software development and interfacing with micro-controllers. So we do a lot of building robotics and things like that.”

Michelle Jenneke

“What I enjoy doing most when I'm off the track is just hanging out with my friends,” Michelle said. “They're a really fun group of people.”

Regardless of these competing demands, Michelle somehow finds time to kick back with her mates. “What I enjoy doing most when I’m off the track is just hanging out with my friends,” she said. “They’re a really fun group of people, so I’ll often have them around and we’ll play some ping-pong or we’ll go the beach and play touch football and just have a really great time together.”

In characteristic fashion, even as she prepares to appear on the track in Rio, Michelle is realistic about her motivations. “I’m not sure if I see myself as being a professional sportsperson even now,” she said. “I know that sounds weird as I’m going to the Olympic Games, but for me it’s still just one of those things that I do because I love doing it.”

Michelle Jenneke

Michelle is an ambassador for the Coca-Cola “That’s Gold” Campaign, alongside fellow Australians, Olympic swimmer Emma McKeon and swimmer turned musician Cody Simpson.

Michelle’s Top 3 Gold Moments

Winning Silver at the Youth Olympic Games 2010

I came second in the 100m hurdles final and walked away with a silver medal. That was a really huge moment for me and that’s the moment when I realised that I was half decent at athletics, so that was definitely a golden moment for me.  

Running a Personal Best

In 2015 at the National Championships where I ran my personal best time of 12.82 seconds in the 100m hurdles final, and in that race I actually became the second fastest Australian of all time – behind Sally Pearson, who’s pretty fast, so being second behind her was a really great moment.  

Feeling the Love

At just about every race, my family is there supporting me. They travel all over the world to watch me compete and I’ve got eight people coming over to Rio just to be part of my cheer squad. They’re so amazing. After every race I always find my way into the stands, even if it means breaking through some areas I’m not meant to be in just to make sure I find them – then it’s hugs all round! It’s a really special moment for me after a race – it doesn't matter how I go, my family is always so supportive. There’s so much love there.