How good is Welsh middle distance runner Jake Heyward? Good enough to be faster at 19 than Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram. That’s how good. Rob Cole tracks the Welsh teenager’s latest milestone.
You would have thought the tension would be running high at the Team Thie track sessions this week after Jake Heyward’s latest personal best performance, but not a bit of it.
Having seen his most talented teenager overtake him in the Welsh 1500 metre rankings with a magnificent 3 min, 36.90 sec time at the IAAF Diamond League Anniversary Games in London last weekend, there was one simple question to put to coach James Thie – happy or fuming?
Since 2004, the now 40-year-old double Team Wales Commonwealth Games athlete had been ranked second on the Welsh all-time list for the metric mile. His personal best time of 3.37.06 set in Greece 14 years ago has long been the target for a number of athletes in his group.
The smart money was on Tom Marshall lowering it sometime this year, but after a superb winter, his track season has been blighted by injury.
Thie’s time has been one target, but the ultimate carrot for his group is Neil Horsfield’s Welsh record of 3.35.08 that has stood since 10 August, 1990 in Brussels.
Thie missed out on that during his prime, but now he is just delighted that someone is finally closing in on it – even if it has pushed him down the pecking order. “I’m delighted, rather than fuming,” he said.
Heyward’s biggest target this year was a medal at the World Junior Championships in Finland. He finished just outside the medals in fourth, but his development under Thie’s expert tutelage, and training alongside Ieuan Thoams and Marshall, has enabled him to make some near super-human advances.
His latest PB at the London Arena may only have been good enough for 13th place overall, but it once again firmly underlined the teenager’s massive potential to re-write not only the Welsh middle distance record books, but potentially the British ones also.
He finished one-and-a-half seconds behind the Olympic champion and within the thickness of a vest of breaking Graham Williamson’s 39-year-old British junior record.
“I showed Jake a photo of the finish to the race that had him within 1.5 seconds of Michael Centrowitz, who won the Olympic title in 2016, and within a fraction of the best Brit in the race, Neil Gourley, who finished just inside the British Under 20 record time of 3.36.6,” said Thie.
“It was just another incredible demonstration of the talent that Jake possesses. When I was growing up, that run by Williamson in Oslo in 1979 seemed to be from a different planet.
“The fact it has stood for almost 40 years just shows how good it was. So many great athletes have tried to beat it over the past four decades, but only Jake has got close to bettering it.
“Now he is being talked about in the same breath as the golden greats of British middle distance running like Cram, Ovett and Coe – and his times are significantly faster than theirs for his age. It is incredibly exciting and the good thing is that Jake is so level-headed about it all.
“He has got a few more races left this summer and we’re hoping he can end on a mile with a mile at the Birmingham Diamond League event. His 1500 metre time suggests he should be able to run well under 4 minutes, so who knows what might be possible if he gets into the right race.
“Some of the things he does in training are jaw-dropping and his top end speed is incredible. He does stuff in training that I could only dream of doing when I was at my best.
“Physically, he is nowhere near fully developed and his longest training run is only ever around 12 miles and he is putting in major miles during the week.
“We are in a healthy position for the next few years, but we all realise that there are no guarantees. If it was a linear curve, everyone who was a good junior would make it in the senior ranks, but that isn’t always the case.”
For the record, Horsfield’s mile record stands at 3.54.59 set in Cork in 1986 while he was 19. The race is on!