We hear from a former world indoor 60m champion who is not afraid of stepping out of his comfort zone
What your hardest but most rewarding training session?
I do have a very specific session for that. We usually do this session in the middle of November and December, then I would repeat that session in the end of March before the start of the outdoor season. We would do six repetitions of 150m sprints, broken down into two sets of three and have five minutes recovery between the reps. After the third rep we would go for a 10-minute rest and the last three would be a five-minute rest. The target times for each of the reps would have to be under 16 and-a-half seconds.
I used to run the session with long jumper Chris Tomlinson and he was one of the best jumpers we had in Europe. He was older than me and I was lucky to train with him. In preparation for my 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons he was my main training partner at the Middlesbrough Sport village and we used to grind that session out.
It was always tough and were regularly laying on the floor at the end of the sessions throwing up. I knew if I could get this six reps all close to 16 seconds, or even if I could nail a few of them in under 16 seconds, I was in a really good shape. Chris was always pushing me to the wire in all of the sessions and he was quick for a long jumper. That was the training session that was most important to me when I had to gauge whether I was in shape or in good condition.
What is the greatest achievement of your career and how would you describe the feeling of achieving it?
The clear stand-out was becoming world 60m champion [Sopot 2014] and it was just phenomenal to be described as the fastest man on the planet over that distance. You know, running that 60m over national championships is one thing but I was 66/1 in that final and it was the one that mattered.
To go through as a massive underdog and get a PB in the heats, semi-finals and then still not to be favourite in the final, and to run 6.4 seconds and be crowned world champion, is something that can never be taken away from me.
No matter what I’ll go on to achieve after that, it will live with me as the biggest thing in my career. It was such a shock. It was my first ever global title and the feeling was exhilarating. Every amazing emotion you can think of just overcame me. Nothing will top the emotions of winning that.
How did the pressures of being a pundit for the 2022 World Championships differ to competing?
My approach with the punditry is that I want to be very honest and be who I am. I don’t want to come across that I’m too media trained but be this voice of the athletes. I’m still competing and after a few injuries in the past few years I’ve been lucky enough that the BBC have chosen me to be one of the pundits. You’ve got to be clear, honest and analytical of what you say and sometimes a race replay will come on and you may have just six seconds to look at a 60m race.
You have to be very fast thinking but clear in your thoughts so it is a very different pressure but it’s one that I enjoy and would love to do more of in the future – especially when I retire from athletics.
Another thing which is a difficult balance is that if one of my team-mates has a difficult performance I want to be honest in analysing it but not too critical that I’m tearing them down. We are the people in the ears of millions watching from home and athletics doesn’t get enough exposure as it is. We want to create British athletes as stars and if we’re the ones responsible for talking to the public we do want to be as positive as possible about them.
What advice do you have to somebody who wants to become a sprinter?
The first thing you’ve got to understand is that it’s a very high pressured event. It’s one of the fastest sports on the planet and you’ve got to be prepared to have the right mentality. You’ve got to be confident, in the zone and have the traits to block out anything and hyper-focus.
As it’s an individual sport you have also got to back yourself. It’s about being a sharp and aggressive thinker which allows you to react quickly, so being self-aware is also critically important.
If you’ve got a natural ability then you’ve got to put in the work, be prepared to take losses and when you do you then have to analyse that performance to find improvements. You won’t win every single race but then you can come back next week and beat the opposition. Be resilient as the chances are you will pick up injuries at some point in your career so look at yourself from a broader position.
So get down to your local athletics club and be brave enough to get on the line and compete. Once you do that then it’s possible for anyone who is willing to work hard and put in the hours to become a top sprinter.
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