Olympic silver medallist and former hurdler Colin Jackson CBE is joining Steve Cram CBE and Paula Radcliffe MBE this weekend at RunFestRun at Laverstoke Farm in Hampshire.
Jackson will be returning to the event after two years as the reigning champion team captain and hopes that people new to running as well as weathered marathon runners will be coming to the event and helping his team rack up the miles.
Not only will people recognise Jackson as a record setter and medal winner, but they might also have seen him on last year’s Dancing on Ice, Language Road Trip on S4C and heard him in the commentary box during athletics events.
The 54-year-old Welshman spoke about what to expect at this year’s RunFestRun, explained why going from competing to commentary isn’t an easy feat and looked back over his early career highlights.
How did it feel to win your first major medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games when you were just 19 years old?
It was a nice feeling because I was representing Wales and it was in Edinburgh so there was an opportunity for many Welsh fans to be there and also my parents were there, so it was really special to be able to announce yourself really as a senior on the international scene wearing the Welsh red. I was pretty proud, and I think because it literally came directly, about 12 days after, I won the junior championships it was pretty important for me to be a great dominant junior and then really announce myself on the senior circuit as well.
What was going through your head as you were stood on the podium at the 1988 Olympics waiting to be awarded your silver medal?
I was really excited because it was a dream come true. I’d not long come out of school and the next thing you’re literally on the top of a roster of an Olympic Games, meaning that you’re one of the best athletes on the planet at that moment in time. It’s a really special feeling when that does happen. And it’s exciting because that gets you thinking, wow, what’s next? What can I achieve next?
During your career you broke world and European records, but do you think that felt more significant at the time of breaking them or has it become more prominent over time?
I would say because we were always goal orientated as a training group anyway and our expectations were always pretty high so there was at no stage where it was a shock if I was going to win a championships or break a record. I was kind of doing what my team around me would expect me to do. I think they would have been more shocked if I’d have failed more than actually won, so we always had very high expectations of what I was capable of doing. Every single year was grafting to make sure I would earn or set out to achieve what I achieved. That in itself can be tiresome because then there’s no surprise because it’s like you’re supposed to win there. I guess the only surprises happen when you break records because then you’re really establishing yourself in your event to be the best at what you’re doing.
Between 1993 and 1995 you went 44 races unbeaten, so did you thrive off trying to keep that winning streak going or did you feel the pressure to keep it up?
I took it race by race by race by race. In the first place I wasn’t the one doing the counting, everyone else was like: “Oh you’ve won 10 races, you’ve won 15 races, you’ve won 30 races.” And I was like oh, have I? I was literally just going through the process as need be so it was exciting but there was added pressure then because all of a sudden people were expecting you to win. I remember even the people who were giving us flowers at the end of races would say to me before I competed: “What lane are you in because I’ll just wait there with your flowers.” And then you think oh actually they’re expecting me to perform and that added a little bit more pressure than I wanted to have on me.
After your athletics career you went into coaching fellow Welshmen, how rewarding was that role for you?
It was nice really to try and help and guide people through their careers in whatever field they’re in. What I found was great was that they trusted me with their careers, and I think that’s one of the things that’s really important. I enjoyed that whole process of it but what I realised quite quickly is that coaching is really time consuming, and I wasn’t expecting it to be so time consuming. It was pretty easy to coach while I was still running because I was always there anyway, and I was always there at the races, and I was always there in the gym etc because I was physically getting myself into shape as well. I thought I’d be just as easy when I retired but no. It’s very, very, very different.
Did you find the transition into commentary quite easy, or did it take some work and getting used to?
It was pretty difficult to get into commentary first of all because when you’re an athlete your thought processes are 100 mile an hour and for me between one hurdle is only a second, but I was thinking of 20 to 30 things in that one second. And when I first went into commentary, I was trying to articulate every single motion of an event and that’s not possible to do. It wasn’t a natural thing to me to realise that you have to rein everything in and pull out one or two things that the general audience can see and then articulate that in the story that you’re trying to tell or what you’re trying to bring them. It was tricky and it was never something that was easy and even today it’s still not easy. I think coaching helps because when you are coaching you see a lot more and so that helps if you’ve still got your coaching eye. The way you see things is very different and I’ve been getting more and more involved in coaching now and I’ve been able to scrutinise things far more critically but in a positive manner. So yeah, I’m enjoying it now.
Last year you were part of the TV show Language Road Trip on S4C in Wales but what was it like to learn the Welsh language and do you use it in your everyday life?
Certainly in some counties in Wales you learn the language when you’re four, you’re taught it at least two hours a week, so it’s not too difficult to get into and you see the language everywhere. I think one of the problems is if you don’t use the language, you don’t speak it, is that you hear it and you understand some of the things of what people are saying but you haven’t got the vocabulary to be able to join in a conversation and for me what was one of the most frustrating things when I was working on the show. People were talking to me, and I could understand virtually 70% or 80% of the conversation fully but I didn’t have the vocabulary to speak back to them in Welsh. It is so frustrating when that happens. But I thoroughly enjoyed the whole series and doing it. It’s an experience I think people want to continue doing. I still live in Wales, so I see Wales all the time, I see the language all the time, my sister speaks fluent Welsh, my nephew speaks fluent Welsh, cousins of mine speak fluent Welsh so it’s around me quite a bit. As a Welsh speaker going around Wales and different areas, I embrace the country more. I think that goes for any language, if you know the language quite well anywhere in the world you see that place very differently. It was nice to see Wales in a different light and it was fun to do. I think people should embrace the language the way they want to. And I think programmes like Language Road Trip are really good to try and encourage people to understand the country that they live in and to potentially have a go at Welsh as a language. It’s not as difficult as it looks or sounds by the way!
Why did you decide to go on Dancing on Ice and what was that experience like?
Dancing on Ice was a lot of fun to do. I wanted to take on a challenge during lockdown and it was an experience of a lifetime to be part of a major ITV show and then also to have the experience and to learn something brand spanking new. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I got to meet Klabera Komini, my partner, she was a real hoot as a partnership so we were lucky that we got on and we trained hard and today I can ice skate pretty well. I was pleased I did the show and shocked that I got to the final, happy, but shocked.
What is RunFestRun and what is your role in the event?
As a defending champion of RunFestRun - I thought I’d get that in first of all because that is the most important thing - at the end it was between me and Steve Cram for the title, but it was me who ended up taking it. It’s a running festival so there’s multitudes of different distances that people participate in. It’s a fun festival with music and lots of different activities, there’s lots of talks that are hosted by international athletes, by DJs, etc. There’s also sessions where people can listen to stories from world class athletes or personalities who really partake in running in whatever way they want to do. It’s a great weekend where people get out there, they can camp, they’re right on site, we’re ready to start the competition. The competition is easy – as you enter you get allocated your team – me, Steve Cram and Paula Radcliffe are the captains, and we encourage our team to go out there and put as many miles in the bank over the weekend. If you’re in my team best of luck. The music acts are there, the running is there, people get to rub shoulders with people, there’s lots of tents and stalls that are there that people can be encouraged to see and visit. It’s just generally a good weekend of fun, running and music – a great collaboration that seems to work.
Do you expect to see a lot more new runners who took up the exercise during lockdown?
Yeah I do believe that because people have been walking, walking has been the most popular exercise over lockdown followed by cycling and then running. The way people’s minds are now I think they’ll feel at ease with running. It won’t feel strange. So, running an event like this where they can have a great time obviously with the music and the festival atmosphere is there, there’s food available for people to purchase on site. It’s a great weekend for people perhaps who are really new at running to get involved because you can run as little as 2.5km or 5km and those are the kind of things that we like people to have a go at if you’re an early runner. It’s definitely an event for people who are just kicking off their running careers.
Paula Radcliffe, Steve Cram CBE & Colin Jackson were team captains at this year’s RunFestRun festival, which took place between 27th – 29th August at Laverstoke Park, Hampshire. For more information, visit www.runfestrun.co.uk.
Words by Lucy Roberts for Female First, who you can follow on Twitter, @Lucy_Roberts_72.