By Owen Morgan
Olympic 1500m finalist Jake Heyward has been speaking about his Tokyo Games experience whilst on a visit back to his home city of Cardiff.
Now based in Oregon, Hayward was an interested spectator at the Cardiff Cross Challenge held at Llandaff Fields, where he has twice won the under-20 title.
The 22-year-old, who also used to train at the venue, relived his exploits at last summer’s Olympics as the starter’s pistol fired on the men’s senior race.
“It was fantastic,” said Heyward. “I’m still coming to terms with going through that experience.
“You dream about going to the Olympics as a kid and then when you’re actually there, you have to soak it all in, but not get too carried away because you have a job to do at the same time.“
Heyward certainly did an impressive job of competing in his first major senior championships.
The first round of the 1500m saw him win his heat in impressive style, clocking3:36.14.
In the semi-final, Heyward improved his own Welsh 1500m record as he clocked 3:32.82 to finish sixth and qualify for the Olympic final.
In what turned out to be the fastest 1500m race in Games history, the middle distance star finished in an impressive ninth place behind Norwegian superstar Jakob Ingebrigtsen.
Having dreamt about competing at the Olympics as a child, was there any stage during the games where Heyward had to pinch himself to believe he’d realised that dream?
“To be honest with you, no,” said Heyward. “Not when I was competing, or before I was competing anyway. I was so focused on the races it was almost like being another competition to me.
“I think the fact that I wasn’t fazed by the fact that it was the Olympics actually helped me quite a lot.“
Heyward feels the experience he gained in reaching the Tokyo final will stand him in good stead at the next Olympics in Paris, which is now less than three years away.
“The experience of going into the major champs is invaluable,” said the former Llanishen High School pupil, who was this week named alongside fellow Welsh athletes Melissa Courtney-Bryant, Piers Copeland and Jeremiah Azu on British Athletics‘ Olympic World Class Programme for 2021-22.
“When you go through the call room, the intensity of the warm–up track – just being around that environment can throw people off.
“Also, the level of competition is way higher than any race that you’re going to do on the circuit.
“ I think I learned what it takes to actually achieve at the top. I’ve learned what it takes to medal because I’ve now experienced it, I’ve seen what the guys are capable of doing. I know what I now need to be able to do to achieve that.
“So having that experience and going through that process is invaluable looking ahead to Paris.”
It will also be useful looking forward to next summer and the trio of major championships which take place within a matter of weeks of each other.
The hectic schedule kicks off with the World Athletics Championships between July 15 and 24 in Eugene, where Heyward is now based with the Oregon Track Club Elite, coached by former British Olympian Mark Rowland.
Next up is the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, where the track and field schedule starts on August 2.
No sooner have the Commonwealth Games finished than the European Athletics Championships begin in Munich on August 15.
Athletes eligible for all three championships may have to make some difficult decisions, including whether it’s possible to compete at all three.
Heyward said: “It is possible, but I’ll have to speak Mark and see what his thoughts are.
“Personally I’d love to run for Wales at the Commonwealth Games that’s a big goal of mine. And then obviously the worlds are massive as well.“
Despite his love of cross country, Heyward wasn’t tempted to take part in Saturday’s event.
“No, no, I do like cross, but I’ve only just come back from my break. So yeah, it definitely wouldn’t be wise if I put the spikes on!
“I’m just starting to get back to fitness, build some volume, get sessions done. And it’s all geared towards next summer.
“I don’t know if I’m going to do indoors or not. I need to have a chat with my coach and see what he says.“
Although he was unable to take part in Saturday’s event, which was recentlyelevated to World Athletics Cross Country Tour’s Gold Standard, Heyward was particularly pleased to see young local athletes taking part.
“It’s nice to see all the kids out there,” said Heyward. “Especially the Cardiff runners all going around the course, it’s great.”
It’s not so long ago it was a young Heyward running around Llandaff Fields and he hopes his Olympic exploits could act as an inspiration for other youngsters.
“I’d like to think that I can inspire some kids to take up athletics and see what they can achieve in the sport.
“Hopefully, if they see me on TV or me doing other races, then they can believe that they can achieve things as well.“