‘Maybe I bluffed the Olympics’ – Jake Heyward predicts more in 2022

He is the man who, as a junior, was faster than a teenage Steve Cram.

He was European champion at under-18 and under-20 level.

In his first full senior season, he finished ninth at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Jake Heyward is one of the country’s top 1500m runners – but he is only getting started.

The 23-year-old’s journey to senior level was hampered by the pandemic and a persistent Achilles injury, which left him playing catch-up to make the Tokyo Games last summer.

“It was a rollercoaster of emotions,” Heyward told BBC Sport Wales.

“I was coming off the back of being in a boot for both of my Achilles [for five months]so I didn’t have much of a winter.

“But I wanted to be in the Olympics so I just gritted it out. Maybe I bluffed the fitness a bit last year, I don’t know, but this year I’m in a much better place.”

The ‘bluff’ suggestion is delivered with a wry smile, as Heyward admits he still put in a lot of work in the pool and gym to recover from his injury in time for the Olympic Games.

Jake Heyward won his 1500m heat and ran a personal best in the semi-final before finishing ninth in the Tokyo Olympic final

En route, he broke a 31-year Welsh record in the 1500m and became the fastest Welshman in history over a mile.

But Heyward now describes himself as a ‘completely different athlete’ after his Olympic experience, a solid block of winter training and learning the ropes of the top level.

“There is a big step up to the seniors,” Heyward continues. “It’s more challenging than people think.

“And it’s more than just running. Mentally as well, you have to mature.

“As a junior I was just running off ability but as a senior you don’t get away with that. You have to do the training and you have to live the lifestyle of a professional athlete.

“I think it took me a while to understand that.

“My new coach [Mark Rowlands] took his time to understand me as a person and took his time to develop the training in the right direction.

“So there was probably a couple of years where I didn’t do much but actually it was just building blocks for the future.”

Jake Heyward
Jake Heyward won gold at the European Youth Championships in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2016

The postponement of the 2020 Olympics caused a knock-on effect that has led to the World Championships, Commonwealth Games and European Championships all taking place within only a few weeks this summer.

Heyward’s selection by Team Wales for his debut Commonwealth Games has already been confirmed.

This weekend at the UK Athletics Championships he will aim to secure his first World Championships spot.

The Cardiff-born athlete now trains in Oregon, USA – host of the World Championships – but he will go head-to-head with fellow Britons Jake Wightman and Olympic bronze medalist Josh Kerr at the trials in Manchester.

“British Championships is effectively a major champs these days with the talent in Britain,” Heyward says.

“You know if you make that British team, you’re one of the best athletes in the world. And you can compete when it matters. So that’s exciting in itself and I think that’s only a positive thing.

“The way that the Athletics Championships are structured over the next few years gives effectively an opportunity to become a world or Olympic champion every single year. So that’s very exciting in itself.

“I don’t like talking too much. But I’m confident in my ability and hopefully in the next few years I can show what I’m capable of.”

His prolific results as a teenager placed a great expectation on Heyward’s shoulders.

He has already gone a long way to fulfilling it – and he feels there is still so much more to come.

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