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a hurdler’s tale

I was born in Llanelli on 11 April 1986. Growing up, I was always a very active kid. My first love was football. In primary school, all I wanted to play was football, and, as a result, my sporting idol was Ryan Giggs. I was naturally a right-footed person but learnt to play with my left foot so I could be like Giggs. I used to play all different sports in secondary school. I played cricket, I’d do cross country, badminton, gymnastics. My parents encouraged me and would take me wherever I needed to go. They never said no to taking me or buying me the necessary equipment; they were just happy with me doing sport, and I was happy doing sport.

In my first year in secondary school, I started to do the sprint hurdles and I found myself taking to the technique very easily. I was always very fast over the short sprint and I was always very good at cross country, so, when you’re allowed to do the 400 hurdles at under-17, it seemed like a natural progression for me; a mixture of technique and endurance seemed to fit me perfectly. As soon as I turned my hand to the 400, I started winning races at local level and then at county level, and it just escalated from there.

I would recommend kids play as many sports as possible. The reason why I’ve been so successful at the hurdles is because I hurdle with both legs. At the age of eight or nine, I taught myself how to kick a football with my bad leg. I taught myself so well that I had great coordination, so that, when it came to hurdling on the other leg, I picked it up straight away. Skills like that, that I learnt very young, are transferable into other sports. So, as young as you are, you need to just play as many different sports as you can. In athletics, there’s something for everyone, whether you’re short, fat, tall, whatever. It doesn’t matter if you’re fast or slow, there’s always something.

turning down the swans

I think I had natural ability. I seemed to excel at anything I turned my hand to. I was with Swansea City Football Club. I’d been signed up until I was nineteen, but I refused the contract when it came around because I didn’t like my coach. He felt that the best way to treat me was to shout at me. That wasn’t what I needed. I needed someone to put their arm around me and tell me that I could do it, encourage me. My confidence was very low at the age of sixteeen, seventeen. My parents just wanted me to be happy so they accepted my decision to leave. If I had the knowledge I have now about the sport and the training, and the mental toughness I have now, if I was back in my body at sixteeen years old, then I’d certainly have the tools to deal with the situation, and I feel I would have become a professional footballer. There is no doubt about that. But the way things have panned out for me, it’s made me into the person I am now, that bit tougher to deal with the issues in the athletics world.


I’d always win competitions when I was younger, and I always won the cross countries in my region, and I’d always win the sprint hurdles, but I never thought at that point, “I’m definitely going to be an athlete when I’m older”. I always wanted to be a footballer, and, until sixteen, that was still my dream.

I was probably at the end of my first year at university (which was my last year as a junior) when I reached the European Junior Final and finished second. I thought, “I’m actually not too bad at this!”. I remember telling my dad in 2006 that, come 2010, I’d be earning more than him and my mum put together, and I’d be one of the best in the world. I’d gone in there ranked fifteenth and I came away in second position, knocked over a second off my PB, and people were starting to think, “This kid might have something for the future. Very raw, very natural”.

And then, the next year, I went down to fifty seconds for the first time, which is a bit of a marker, really. I may well have been the youngest British athlete to ever go under fifty, and I thought, “I could really push on here”. But I had a few years, then, of injuries. 2008 was probably my worst season. It wasn’t until 2009 when I made the huge breakthrough that I’d promised over the years, making that Championship Final. I thought, “Right, this is it. I’m going to be a serious contender over the next couple of years. I’ve got the ability to be up with these top guys”, and even though I only finished seventh that was when I certainly felt I’d come of age as an athlete, and I knew that I could be up there in London and over the next ten years.

improving too fast?

I raced twice in 2007. I was in fantastic shape at the start of the season, did one race to get my qualifying time for the European Under-23s, got injured the next day and, before I knew it, I was out for six weeks. My race back was the European Under-23s. I had to do the heats and the final. I’d done maybe two track sessions in six weeks and I went on to win that with a personal best, and I knew I could have run even faster if I’d been training for those six weeks. So, for me, I was almost in peak shape that year, but it never happened. I had further injuries after that, which kept me out of the 2008 season. I had limited training going into it but I knew that it was just a case of knuckling down and getting over the problems that I had had and putting things right in 2009 … which I did.

The people around me, my very close family and friends, they weren’t surprised with my performances because they knew that I’d been running great times in the past and they knew that I just needed to get over those teething problems. I suppose one of the issues you have with athletics is that, if you have a vast improvement in a short space of time, then some muscles are neglected and obviously problems will come, and it takes years and years to deal with those problems and get your body up to that conditioned level. It almost hindered me, really, improving so fast. I couldn’t keep up with the speed and the power that I was generating through training, and it took its toll in 2008.

going for gold

I targeted both the Barcelona Europeans and the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010 for gold medals. We knew that those would be fantastic stepping-stones to greater things. After my 2009 season, I knew that I was capable of achieving gold, but it didn’t make it any easier. Leading up to Barcelona, I was the clear favourite, so everyone was looking to me to bring home a gold. I was very pleased with the way things went over there. I ran a personal best in the final. I couldn’t really ask for a better race.

… in Delhi, I didn’t have a great preparation for that. I was out in Qatar just before and came down with a virus, didn’t get to train once. Then, went to Delhi and managed to do one track session before we stepped on the track to race. In about three weeks leading up to Delhi, I had hurdled the once, which isn’t ideal at all in such a rhythmical event. It took a lot of determination and strength to come through that, and come away with a gold. That’s probably my greatest achievement because of the problems that I had leading into it.

My best performance time-wise would have been beating the world number one this year, but my greatest performance was in Delhi, given the lead up to it, being ridiculously ill, and ten days out struggling to even make it in the heats. To get around the track and then struggling to do the interviews afterwards, that was the most difficult one. It was an all-round performance in terms of: I managed to deliver on the night in question, managed to hold my focus even though the gold medal was around my neck before I started. I had a lot of kind messages from the people who actually saw me out there and saw the mess I was in beforehand and they said it was by far my greatest achievement and I agree with that.

commitment and sacrifice

I am an incredibly determined and focused person, although that hasn’t come overnight. I’ve been in the sport for about five years now, and it improves every year. I’ve reached a point now where everything in my life is geared towards athletics.

If I train really hard in the day, there’s no point me staying out late with friends, having a few drinks. You have to make sure that your whole life is committed because you can train on one hand and then take it away with the other, and that would be pointless. I’ve experienced the lows in the sport so I don’t take anything for granted, and it’s made me a tougher person, mentally. It’s taught me to deal with things and given me a fantastic determination when things aren’t going right, and I don’t get carried away then when I do reach the massive highs. I sacrifice everything because those massive highs are so great. I love the feeling of being on top of the podium and that’s what you’ve got to try and focus on all year round, even when it’s snowing and windy and raining outside.

Athletes sacrifice probably more than any other sport, and we don’t get monetary rewards like footballers and rugby players, unless your surname is Bolt. You don’t do it for fame and we don’t do it to be in the papers. We do it because you want to be the best at what you do, and you want to win the major medals.

That’s what drives me on to do all this, so, for me, the sacrifice is worth it.

having rhys on my shoulder

I don’t want to become complacent about my success. I want to keep improving all the time, and the best way to do that is to have your rivals around you. Having Rhys [Williams] on my shoulder has been good. I’ve managed to keep him at arms length this year and I’m sure next year he’ll be training twice as hard to try and get up to me again. It’s a slippery slope from the top, and I just want to be the best in the world, and until I am I won’t take it easy.

Me and Rhys, personally, we don’t have much of a friendship. We don’t socialise away from the track. It’s all business. Our coach doesn’t let us be competitive in training anyway, so it’s not an issue. We want to save it for when we’re racing, and not on a Tuesday night.

running in a red vest

I don’t get to run for Wales very often. It’s only at the Commonwealth Games, so running for Wales is a bigger occasion than running for Great Britain in a way. I run for Britain every year, so it doesn’t make it as exclusive, I suppose. I get a lot of support when I run for Wales and, obviously, it just means that little bit more, running in a red vest.

But there’s never any tension between the home nations when you’re running for Great Britain. I mean, we run for Great Britain most of the time. There’s actually a very good team spirit at the moment. I think it doesn’t mean as much if you’re from England because they had a 100-strong athletics team and we had twenty going to the Commonwealth Games. So, if you win a medal for Wales, it’s praised a lot more, I think, as it should be. Getting medals at major Games and great performances should be recognized. I think it helps to inspire other Welsh people to show that they too can follow their dreams and achieve great things.

I don’t know if it would work as Wales at the Olympics. At the end of the day, if you win Olympic gold, it doesn’t matter who you’re running for, it’s still Olympic gold. It’s just as sweet if it’s for Wales or if you won it for Great Britain.


It isn’t really in my mind too much. I’m quite laid back in terms of things like that. I know that I’m in good shape at the moment, I’ve had a great year and next year I want to improve on that. It will be 2011, and there’s a World Championships to worry about in that season. Obviously, that is not going to be anywhere near as big as the home Olympics, but it’s a great stepping-stone. I’ve got some unfinished business, considering my performance in Berlin where I finished seventh in the final, and I’m looking to do a lot better this time and hopefully finish on the podium. London will be, without doubt, the biggest competition of my career.

Not many athletes get to run in a home Olympics when they’re in peak form and there’ll be a lot of pressure, but I’m looking forward to it. I’d rather it be in London than anywhere else, with everyone cheering me on.

I don’t find it daunting. There’s been two major competitions this year where I’ve been the favourite going in, expected to win gold, and both times I delivered, so that side of things doesn’t really bother me. For years I’ve had injuries and problems and, when I had those problems, I just thought, “I want to be the best. I want to be top of the pile”, so now, if I do make top of the pile, then I’m not going to shy away from the expectation that comes with it. I’ve worked very hard and every time I step on the line I know I’ve done the hard work, so there’s never that doubt in the back of my mind.

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