By Owen Morgan
Michael Jenkins rounded off the “most intense” season of his burgeoning career at the Welsh Athletics Under-20 International match in Cardiff last weekend.
The brilliant 19-year-old burst onto the global stage in July by winning an F38 shot put silver medal on his World Para Athletics Championships debut in Paris.
After a double medal winning performance for Wales in the shot put and discus on Saturday, Jenkins reflected on a hugely successful summer.
“It’s been a very interesting season compared to what I’ve done before.” said Jenkins, who competed in only a fraction of the 20 to 30 events he would normally contest during a summer. “So, it’s been relaxed in that way,” he added.
But what the summer may have lacked in quantity, it more than made up for in quality.
“It’s been probably the most intense season I’ve ever had training wise and with the level of competitions I have done. Overall, it’s been incredible,” said Jenkins.
Representing Great Britain at the World Para Athletics Championships in Paris being the undoubted pinnacle.
The world record was broken six times during the shot put competition – once briefly by Jenkins when he launched an effort of 17.14m in the fifth round.
Jose Gregorio, of Columbia, eventually took gold with another new world record breaking throw of 18.26m, seeing Jenkins take the silver and a new European record.
Michael Jenkins competing in the shot put where he registered a best distance of 14.96m.
Jenkins said of the experience: “It’s very difficult to put it in words and justify truly how ridiculous it really was. It’s so surreal. I loved it and I can’t wait to go back and do it again.”
Unfortunately, Jenkins will be denied the opportunity to return to Paris next year to once again enjoy the global championship experience when the French capital hosts the Paralympics.
“My categories, the F38 shot put and discus – neither of them are in,” explained Jenkins.
“So, I have to wait until they are in another major games. But I’m going keep training and keep pushing so I can smash it when they come back in.”
The youngster’s acceptance of his plight and his determination to bounce back even stronger comes as no surprise to those familiar with his sporting back story.
At the age of 13 doctors told him it would be unwise to continue to play rugby because of the risks it might pose to someone with cerebral palsy.
It was a devastating blow for the youngster for whom the sport was everything.
However, an introduction to his local athletics club Pembrokeshire Harriers set him off on a path from which he hasn’t looked back.
Michael Jenkins competing in the shot put in Cardiff on Saturday.
The 7ft tall teenager’s talent was soon spotted by Welsh Athletics national throws coach Ryan Spencer-Jones.
Since then, Jenkins’ dedication to the sport has been illustrated by his travelling to Cardiff several times a week for training sessions.
Such is his prodigious talent, Jenkins can be a “crossover” athlete in both para and able-bodied sport according to one of Wales’ greatest Paralympians.
Multiple paralympic and world shot put and discus champion Aled Davies has said of Jenkins: “Michael has so much natural talent, he could end up being anything he wants to be in both para sport and able-bodied sport.
“He can be a true crossover athlete between the two. He’s amazing.”
Typically, Jenkins has taken the absence of his category in Paris next summer in his huge stride.
“It’s disappointing,” he concedes. “But I’ve got the able-bodied side of the sport to try and push for, so it hasn’t set me back. It just gives me something I can fully focus on – one thing as opposed to trying to do multiple different things. It’ll probably be able-bodied discus.
“I’m in a very privileged position. Not many athletes have the opportunities that I’ve had. I’m very grateful for everything my coach and my family have done for me to help get me to this point. I will succeed because of them.”
Michael Jenkins waiting for his next throw in the shot put on Saturday.
Few of those who have met Jenkins, will doubt his determination to succeed. Nor are they likely to have been impressed by his down to Earth attitude and hugely likable character.
Asked about the experience of representing Wales at last Saturday’s under-20 international, Jenkins said: “It was a really nice end to the season. It’s always great to do a competition at home, it’s just very relaxing and all the people are lovely. It’s just really nice.”
The event saw more than 150 athletes taking part representing Wales, Welsh Schools, England Under-20 and Under-18, Scotland, Northern Ireland and The Islands (Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey).
As well as Jenkins’ two silver medals, other notable Welsh performances saw race-walker Gracie Griffiths – Jenkins’ Pembrokeshire Harriers teammate – win the 5,000m race walk. In doing so, the 17-year-old also broke the 11-year-old Welsh under-20 record with a time of 33:36.03.
In the first field event of the day, Jessica Lee (Wales) took silver in the women’s high jump, clearing a height of 1.66m. She would later win bronze in the high jump thanks to a distance of 5.97m.
After picking up bronze at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad earlier this month in the long jump, William Bishop (Wales) took victory in the men’s ambulant long jump with a winning distance of 4.39m.
Commonwealth Youth Games team-mate Tomi Roberts-Jones (Welsh Schools) finished second with a distance of 4.41m.
There were more medals for both Bishop and Roberts-Jones in the men’s ambulant 100m. Bishop took silver with 14.76 seconds and Roberts-Jones took bronze with 13.88 seconds.
Luca Phillips (Wales) took bronze in the men’s long jump where he jumped 6.85m to secure the medal, while Rhys Llewellyn (Wales) produced a huge personal best of 6:15.52 to claim bronze in the 2,000m steeple chase.
Morgan Batten (Wales) claimed bronze in the male javelin with a best distance of 54.06m.
In the women’s 4x100m Wales took silver behind England, while in the men’s 4x100m relay Scotland took gold, Wales silver, and the Welsh Schools team completed the podium positions with bronze.
Wales finished the day on 158 points, with Welsh Schools on 66 points. England U20 were the overall winners with 277 points.
Full results can be found on the Welsh Athletics website.