By Owen Morgan
We contacted Jones at his home in the USA for his views on Smith’s spectacular performance at the World Half Marathon Championships last week.
The Cardiff Metropolitan University student finished 18th in Poland and broke former Newport Harrier Jones’ record of 60:59 set at the Great North run back in 1986 by 28 seconds.
But the former marathon world record holder asked whether we could help him contact the Cardiff youngster directly, rather than Smith reading his comments second hand.
We obliged and Jones was as good as his word, messaging Smith immediately and then ringing him from his base in Boulder, Colorado in order to offer his congratulations and support for the future.
Smith, who has been overwhelmed by the avalanche of congratulatory messages he has received since he clocked 60:31 in Poland, was particularly delighted to talk to Welsh athletics legend Jones.
“He’s one of the athletes that I have looked up to for so long, it was great just to get a call from him, said Smith, who also lowered his own British Under-23 record.,
“When you talk about Welsh athletics, Steve Jones is one of the first names you think of.
“He was amazing . . . really, really nice about it. He was really helpful and said if I was ever stuck and wanted to go to America he would be more than happy to help, so I really appreciate what he said.”
And Jones, who smashed the marathon world record when he ran 2:07.13 in Chicago back in 1985, was equally pleased to talk to the man who had taken his long-standing Welsh half marathon best.
Commenting on his record being broken, Jones said: “It was a little bit of a surprise. I’m obviously delighted for young Jake. The pressure’s onto him now isn’t it? He’s a Welsh record holder, a champion in his own right and I think it’s good for the sport.
“It’s going to be exciting times in the future. It’s been swings and roundabouts really, when you go back to the 70s and 80s and maybe early 90s even, there was always a good crop of Welsh distance runners, whether that was the ladies or men’s. Then it faded out a little bit for a while and it’s coming back now.
“When you sent me his number I gave him a call. It was nice to talk to him. He sounds pretty level-headed.
“I just congratulated him really. He’s the Welsh record holder now and his time puts him right up there.
“He’s the fastest Welshman and I think he’s second or third fastest Briton ever,” said Jones, whose 60.59 was still also the British record until as recently as 2017.
Only multiple Olympic and World Championships gold medallist Sir Mo Farah and Scotland’s Callum Hawkins have run faster than Smith on the all-time UK list.
Jones added: “The doors will start to open for Jake now and he’ll get opportunities he didn’t get before, or opportunities he had to work really hard for before. They are going to start falling in his lap.”
Asked what advice he had given to the 22-year-old, Jones said: “Don’t get over excited, embrace the moment and carry on doing what he’s doing to move forward and get more PBs and more Welsh records of course!”
One of those Welsh records under threat could be another currently held by Jones – the 10,000 record of 27:39.14, which he set in Oslo back in 1983.
Breaking that record would put Smith within touching distance of the 10,000m qualifying time for the Tokyo Olympics – 27:28.
Jones said of his 10,000m mark: “Judging by his 60 minute half marathon, it’s more than under threat!
“I think it would probably be guaranteed that he’s going to get it. We’ll have to wait until he actually does it.
“Whether it’s making the Olympics or breaking records, it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day it’s still running and he’s obviously got the potential.”
Jones also feels that Smith is perfectly situated to improve on his already prodigious talent as part of coach James Thie’s hugely successful training group in Cardiff.
“He’s settled there in Cardiff and James is doing a great job, as he always does,” says Jones, who runs his own coaching group in Colorado, where he has lived for 30 years.
“As a coach, you appreciate the talent you have in your hands and as an athlete you appreciate the coach you’ve got working with you.
“Nothing comes overnight, sometimes it does take, three, four, five or six years to get the best out of your athletes, or to get that relationship with athletes where you know what works for them.
“I think that’s what’s happening with James. He’s been coaching for quite some time and he’s had some really good success, but now it’s starting to really pay dividends in terms of the commitment and focus that his athletes have given and they are reaping the benefits.
“It takes that time to get the best out of your athletes whether they are young athletes or more mature athletes. It takes time for your philosophy and your training regime to pay the benefits for the athletes.”
Jones has also offered Smith the opportunity to travel to Boulder where many athletes, including the likes of Welsh marathon runner Dewi Griffiths, have enjoyed the benefits of training camps at altitude.
“James and I have a pretty good relationship and James and I could talk about that. I offered to help Jake, if ever he needed any help . . . himself or James.
“Not that I know everything, but I’ve been around a little bit and I have a bit of history, but if they want to pick my brains, or I can help out in any way, then I would.
“He’s welcome to come to Boulder any time and train with my group but the logistics of that would be something me, James, Welsh Athletics, or British Athletics would have to arrange.”
— British Athletics (@BritAthletics) October 18, 2020
Smith himself is more than happy with life in Cardiff where he has recently bought a new house having lived, studied, trained and worked in the city for the past three years.
The British under-23 half marathon record holder moved to the city to study on the recommendation of his now best friend and fellow Cardiff Met student Ciaran Lewis after they met on GB mountain running trip in 2016.
Born in Bermuda and raised in Hong Kong and Devon, Smith recently cemented his allegiance to his adopted home by going through qualifying process in order to become eligible to run for Wales.
His love of the city, his close friendship with Cardiff-born training partner Lewis and the support he has received from Welsh Athletics, meant there was only one country Smith wanted to represent once he was eligible.
Smith said: “Cardiff is such a beautiful city and Welsh Athletics have been absolutely great with me, they’ve been unreal.
“Since I’ve been at university, they have been there for me the whole time for support, so I would just like to thank them for everything. I couldn’t wish for a better country to represent.
“My coach is Welsh and I train with Ciaran – I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him either. We do everything together, I couldn’t have asked for a better training partner.”
Smith pays particular praise to the influence of coach Thie and his training group have had on his progress.
“You have athletes like Ieuan Thomas, Tom Marshall, Piers Copeland, James Heneghan, Ciaran . . . I could name an absolute ton of people . . . Jake Heyward back in the day before he went to America.
“When you put all us guys together you’ve got one of the top groups in the country.
“Apart from going into lockdown, on every run you are able to do sessions as a group where you’ve got runners like Piers who’s done 1:46 for 800m and 3:35 for 1500, you’ve got steeplechasers who have gone to the World Champs like Ieuan.
“On top of that we’re all in really good shape, you’ve got six or seven athletes who could break 30 minutes for 10k.
“Think of another university group in the UK who could do that . . . there’s not that many. You know that in every session you are going to be pushing hard.”
And guiding the way is Thie, himself a former Wales and Great Britain middle distance international and senior lecturer at Cardiff Met.
“James has been nothing but amazing and I couldn’t have done it without him.” says Smith, who now aims to work on his improving his speed with an eye on that Olympic qualifying time.
“That’s the aim,” says Smith when asked about the Tokyo Olympics.
But adds: “The big thing I noticed at the weekend was that I was working at my limit, but some of those guys, as soon as they put their feet down and surged, they had such quick speed and I know that in order to win medals in future or to get into the top ten I need to have that in me.
“So I think I need to work on my speed for now and we’ll see how it goes.”
Beyond that, Smith would love to represent his newly adopted nation at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022 – a summer which will also see the European Athletics Championships and World Athletics Championships being held.
For now, further Great Britain vests and a debut Welsh vest will be replaced by another less well known vest, but one that is getting growing exposure thanks to the exploits of Smith and the likes of European Under-23 silver medallist Copeland.
Along with Lewis and Copeland, as well as fellow athletes James Heneghan, John Howarth and Jordan Wood, he helped set up the Llanishen Street Distance Project, in honour of the student house they all shared in Cardiff.
“In the first year of university we decided to move into a house together because we were all runners and we were all training at the same place,” said Smith.
“So we decided to make this little club called the Llanishen Street Distance Project and we got vests made for it and stuff.
The black vests bearing the project’s name and logo are becoming an increasingly familiar sight as the youngsters wear it to compete at meetings both at home and abroad.
Smith says: “When I ran my 62.02 in Paris last year I wore the vest. It’s just such a good team environment and we wanted to get people to know about it really.”
It’s just one more indication why Smith feels so at home in Cardiff and why he is such a proud new owner of a national record previously the property of the Welsh athletics legend who took time out to congratulate the youngster on taking his crown.