By Owen Morgan
RISING middle distance star Jake Heyward has revealed why he has turned down offers to study and compete in America to stay in his home city of Cardiff.
Heyward, who has excelled at junior level, believes he is best placed to continue his progression in Wales.
The 19-year old currently combines training under the guidance of former Wales and Great Britain middle-distance international James Thie with his accountancy and finance degree studies at Cardiff University.
It’s a balance Heyward believes is best for his progression: “I like the fact that it’s slightly different and it’s not too intense in the sense that it’s not athletics all the time, whereas something like something like sport science would be.
“I’m still really interested in the sports science element of athletics, for instance we’ve started doing things like measuring lactic acid in our system after training sessions, but with regards to my degree, I needed something that was different.
“It is a big lifestyle change, going from living with your parents to living on your own and trying to juggle a degree but by controlling that side of things and staying at home, I can have more time to focus on my athletics and my recovery.
“I had multiple offers from the United States to go and study over there but I needed consistent training so that I wouldn’t break down and I knew what I’d get in Cardiff.”
It’s a strategy which has served the European Youth and European Junior 1500m gold medallist well so far.
As well as collecting a plethora of personal bests and making his Diamond League debut, 2018 saw Heyward finish fourth at both in 1500m final of the World Junior Championships and the European Cross Country Championships, claiming a team silver medal in the latter, and clocking the second-fastest ever 1500m time by a junior.
Now he wants to continue the upward curve into 2019 as he moves up to under-23 level and eyes the senior circuit.
The European Under-23 Championships in Gävle, Sweden, is the main goal for the summer, but first he is keen to make an impact indoors and stake a claim for a spot on Great Britain’s European Indoor Championships team competing in Glasgow this March.
Heyward said: “Before Christmas, the aim was to qualify for the European Cross Country Championships which I did and moving into the indoor season, I’d love to be able to make the European Indoors team.
“I’m looking to put a couple of markers down and I have one eye on the European Indoor 1500m standard of 3:42.00, so I’ll probably run a 1500m and a 3000m to see, but then for the outdoor season, European Under-23s is my main aim.
“Moving into the outdoor season, my big focus will be the European Under-23 Championships in Sweden, and also competing at the British Championships for the first time, also with an eye on the World Championships in Doha.
“I think I have to go for it in the 1500m. I think I can be competitive and it all comes down to the British Championships and the race itself. I feel that the standard is within my grasp now and I guess we’ll see what happens.”
Heyward was giving his thoughts on the British Athletics website after having earned a spot on the British Athletics Futures Academy Programme for a third consecutive year in 2019.
The programme, supported by Nike, highlights athletes that have the potential to win medals at future Olympic & Paralympic Games, World Championships and European Championships.
The Cardiff AAC athlete has utilised the programme to head away on altitude training in South Africa this month and feels that being able to benefit from the programme’s support workshops and environments will continue to enhance his performances this season.
“2019 is my third year on the programme and it’s really helped me during that time,” says Heyward. “One of the big things personally has been to head away on an altitude training camp in Potchefstroom, South Africa this month.
“Last year, we were able to get tested at Loughborough and see our readouts for strength and power tests amongst other things, giving athletes on the programme a good idea of where we’re at.
“Because of things like that, I’ve built up a few profiles of where I was and where I’m at now in my development and I can see how everything compares so I know if I’m progressing.
“It’s a big honour to be a part of the programme. It’s difficult to get onto it given the number of athletes in Great Britain & Northern Ireland and it’s a nice feeling to know that there is someone that’s looking out for you and keeping an eye on your development,” he added
At just 19, Heyward already has international titles to his name, having claimed European Youth and European Junior 1500m gold in 2016 and 2017 respectively, and gained comparisons to the likes of World Champion and Olympic 1500m silver medallist Steve Cram with his performances in the summer.
He earned more admirers by overtaking Cram to move second on the all-time British Under-20 1500m list, clocking 3:36.90 at 2018’s Muller Anniversary Games.
Bettering the likes of all-time athletics greats Cram, Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe for his age is a huge achievement, but he wants to continue to force his way into the top echelons of middle distance runners in Great Britain & Northern Ireland and emulate their international success.
Heyward added: “It’s a massive honour to be compared to people like Steve Cram, he’s someone who achieved a lot in his career and he’s definitely someone that I try and model myself off.
“Seb Coe and Steve Ovett, the runners of that era, James [Thie] has talked about before in training and it’s great to be mentioned alongside them for what I’ve done.
“At the same time, I’ve just stepped up from the junior ranks to the Under-23s and we all progress at different rates. Just because I ran a certain time at a certain age doesn’t mean anything. I have to focus on working hard and hopefully progress at the same rate they did.”