Athletics: Steve Cram's successor searches for world glory at U20 World Championships in Tampere

Jake Heyward hunts for World success at the u20 World Championships in Tampere, Finland. At only 19 years of age Jake Heyward has already come up against some of the toughest athletes in the world.
10 July 2018
by:   Connor Craig-Jackson

The Welshman shocked just about everybody when he ran 3.39 minutes in the 1500m at the Oslo Diamond League to go surpass the likes of Steve Cram and go third on the all-time British Under 20 rankings.

The tough on-track battles will be set to continue when the European Under 20 champion aims for more junior glory at the World Under 20 Championships.

But for Jake however, the toughest battle he has ever faced is one that he has been fighting for years and no matter how hard he trains, is always ready to strike him where it hurts.

This opponent of course, is hay fever.

“I get it really at the start of the year,” says Jake, “so my performances never really reflect how hard I’ve been training in the build up. So people always see the championship performances and think ‘Oh how did he do so well in that?’.

“I really suffered badly with it in BUCS, because I woke up that morning and I just couldn’t breathe. It’s frustrating more than anything because it was nowhere near reflective of the shape I was in, but it’s just something I’ve had to deal with and accept.

“So in that sense I think (running 3.39) has been a long time coming. I’ve always gone to championship races and done well but I’ve never gone after a time as such, so I think I can go faster, I just need to get into the right race.”

This year has seen a big shake up for the 19-year-old both on and off the track with his move to the University of Cardiff culminating in a completely different coaching set up.

After training on his own for the previous few years of his short career so far, the England Under 20 champion now has a group of strong athletes he regularly trains with, which has been a refreshing new development.

“I started the change in September,” says Heyward, “because I wasn’t enjoying it as much on my own. I was still running well and the training I was absolutely fine, but I just think I needed more motivation if anything.

“In the winter especially when I was really young I’d never really do any longs reps. Now I’ve got partners like Ieuan Thomas who’s a really good steeplechaser and Tom Marshall who was at the Commonwealth Games, so in the winter I was just hanging onto them and getting fitter.

“Now I’m looking at people like Tom who have run 3.37 for 1500m before, so now that I’m training with him week in week out there’s no reason why I can’t also go out and do that as well, so it’s really good to train with them regularly.”

Despite grabbing some impressive times this year, the Cardiff runner is still not among the favourites on paper to challenge for medals, with the World Championships posing a whole new level to the Europeans he won last year.

And while he will certainly be hard pressed to grab a medal when he makes the trip to Finland, Heyward knows first hand how misleading the rankings can be. The European Championships last year saw him come out with a convincing win despite entering with the 10th fastest PB at the time, giving him the confidence that he can take on anybody at the competition, with the right tactics of course.

“Times are a good indication of fitness levels but it doesn’t really pan out like that. In a 1500 it’ really rare that someone’s going to actually going to run a PB. I mean it’s possible but it’s unlikely. So tactics, your positioning and how well you can kick come into a lot of it in 1500 and above.

“There are so many people that I’ve seen go to junior competitions who are ranked in the top two top three and then don’t even make it out of their heat, so it’s definitely a skill that you need to develop and one that I’ve been developing since I was younger.”

Certainly it would be overly optimistic to mark Heyward as one of the main contenders for World Junior medals.

But if his recent track exploits tell us anything, it’s that the Welsh Junior record holder is certainly capable of springing a few more surprises.

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