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Great Colin Jackson article:


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  • Great Colin Jackson article:

    Back trackside to guide two top Olympic prospects, the hurdling legend blames bad coaching for ruining Britain's medal hopes

    Donald McRae
    Tuesday January 23, 2007


    "I was shocked and horrified," Colin Jackson says as he rolls his eyes and remembers the day last October when he began working with Tim Benjamin and Rhys Williams, two promising young Welshmen battling against the deep-rooted mediocrity of British athletics. It might still be a low-key adventure but Jackson's unpaid role as coach to Benjamin, Europe's leading 400m runner in 2005, and Williams, a bronze medallist in the 400m hurdles at the European championships last year, allows him to provide a withering insight into the state of the sport in this country.
    "I told them it had been a long time since I had been with people who were so poor and such beginners," Jackson recalls. "That shook them up. But I was actually horrified. At the end of that first week I was on the phone moaning: 'I just cannot believe these guys are so bad and yet they've won so much.' My friends laughed and said: 'Well, they're going to be pretty good by the summer, aren't they?'

    "I told Rhys I want him to consistently run at least half a second faster than his personal best. He was like: 'What? Half a second faster than I've ever run? Consistently?' I said: 'Uh-huh.' I keep reminding Rhys that I'm almost twice his age, and been retired five years, but I can still do things better than him.

    "They were so poor in terms of their conditioning, training and mentality that working with me was a whole new regime. At the end of the first day Rhys said he'd never trained so hard in his life - and I was just settling them in! Oh dear. They were as stiff as boards and I said: 'No wonder you're both flaming injured all the time. You've got no strength and can't touch your toes properly.'

    'They're not alone - most of our contemporary athletes are missing the basic skills. Malcolm Arnold, my own coach, and his peers had the qualifications and the know-how to teach us properly. But most UK athletes today have never been taught the basics. Bad coaching is one of the reasons why the sport is in such trouble."

    When asked how UK Athletics responded to his move into coaching, Jackson is diplomatic if mildly dismissive. "Dave Collins [the performance director], bless him, asked if I wanted help and I just said 'no!' He said: 'I can't afford to give you any money but I'm here to support you in any other way.' Dave also asked me what I wanted out of this arrangement. I told him I just want these lads to run faster but he said: 'No, what do you want?' I said: 'There's nothing you can give me personally - let's be real!' But I'm luckier than most. Other coaches don't have the luxuries I have or know the people I know."

    On the inside, beneath the arch delivery and camp giggle, a core of steel runs through Jackson. That resolve enabled him to win 25 major medals in the 110m hurdles - including gold in four European and two world championships outdoors - and set a world record which stood for 13 years. His blistering time of 12.91sec had been equalled in the 2004 Olympic Games by Liu Xiang but the outstanding Chinese hurdler only finally managed to break Jackson's record last summer. Jackson's world indoor record of 7.30 for the 60m hurdles will probably reach its own unmatched 13-year mark in March.

    That legacy, rather than his more recent Strictly Come Dancing celebrity, initially intimidated Benjamin and Williams. "They were very nervous, bless them," the 39-year-old says. "A big reason was that they knew all about me when they were growing up. But they were also worried about me earning a living. They said: 'Aw, no, are we going to stop you getting work on TV?' They were very conscious that I'm training them for free 3½ hours a morning, six days a week. I soon got them worrying about other things."

    Jackson has already generated headlines simply by flicking through a star-studded address book and announcing his recruitment of the legendary Edwin Moses and Michael Johnson to help him transform his proteges. "Last summer, before we started working together, I gave Rhys some technical tips. I also said: 'I'm seeing Ed Moses in the morning - what questions would you like me to ask Ed?' Rhys was very excited. And I remembered Michael [Johnson] said the British athlete he would most like to coach is Tim Benjamin. I asked him why and he said it's because Tim has all the attributes."

    Moses and Johnson have yet to add their expertise to his small Welsh camp, but Jackson stresses: "It will be crucial when Tim and Rhys go into summer training. It will be good for them to hear a new voice and you can't offer them anyone more accomplished than Ed Moses or Michael Johnson. As a coach it also helps that if I'm really stuck I can turn to them."

    Jackson has, more bizarrely, included David James in his coterie of advisers, insisting that Portsmouth's former England goalkeeper can pass on invaluable lessons in dealing with the media and in bouncing back from error-ridden performances. If nothing else Jackson's approach has invested freshness. He argues that "UK Athletics are going to have to come alive fast and maybe they could start by using British icons. Look what Seb Coe did with the Olympic bid.

    "But Sally Gunnell just seems to be sitting at home now and she could be used to inspire young girls. Linford [Christie] also has lots to offer but these icons haven't been properly asked by UK Athletics. If I hadn't had my own private chat with Rhys and Tim I wouldn't be working in the sport now. Maybe UK Athletics thought I would be too busy or they're just uneasy about involving people like me."

    Collins controversially invited Christie to help coach British sprinters at major championships - prompting other athletes, including Paula Radcliffe, to protest because of Christie's positive drugs test in 1999. Jackson and the sprinter were once close friends who set up the marketing company Nuff Respect to capitalise on their worldwide success. But, after he withdrew from the enterprise, Jackson was furious when Christie allegedly refused to pay the hurdler the £55,000 he was apparently owed.

    Jackson does not sound much like a vacuous celebrity when he reveals that, in 1997, he went to Christie's office with the express purpose of "torching the place". He was only stopped by the presence of two young mothers, deep in conversation over their prams, on the steps outside the building. "If they hadn't hung around so long I could still be in jail today," Jackson says. "I was so livid I was ready to burn it to the ground."

    In the end, as the women chattered away, Jackson decided instead to transfer the money owed to his own bank account. Christie's subsequent fury can be imagined. "Linford hasn't spoken to me since and when I last saw him he gave me one of his mean looks, but that doesn't bother me. It's just a shame because he's misunderstood and he could play a positive role in British athletics. People always tell me, 'you're so nice but Linford is the opposite' and I say, 'do you honestly think I would've hung around a person so long if he was really awful?' Linford can be a gentle and a good man who could inspire many people. But as an adult he also needs to take responsibility."

    Christie's position will almost certainly remain clouded - and Jackson is also downbeat in his hopes for British athletics. "The Beijing Olympics [next year] will be too soon to see any difference and it's even going to take a miracle for anyone to win a British gold in track and field at the 2012 Games in London. We'll get gold medals in other sports but maybe not track and field. Tim will be 30 and Rhys 28 and they should be definite contenders in 2012 but, otherwise, we're struggling.

    "Only Jessica Ennis [the 20-year-old heptathlete] is really special. She could do something but it's going to be hard for the rest and that's why I'd love to do something with Rhys and Tim. If just two British athletes start producing it will lift the whole sport."

    He first became involved when Rhys's father, the former Wales and British Lions winger JJ Williams, asked Jackson to help his son with the technical facets of hurdling. A supreme stylist during his own career, Jackson was "impressed by Rhys's receptive attitude and by all the questions he asked. That motivated me to call Tim and see if he would be interested in working with us. He was like: 'You have to be joking!' I said: 'No, I'm happy to put my money where my mouth is ...'"

    Jackson shrugs at his lack of remuneration. "I could never charge them because my own coach never charged me. Malcolm just drummed the basics and the purity of the sport into me. If I can pass that on to Rhys and Tim then I'll have done something worthwhile." It does not take long for his briefly serious expression to be replaced by another fit of the giggles. "They're also saving me a lot of money. Each morning, during training, I tell myself how much money I'm saving by not being out shopping. So you see? There might be some logic to this after all ...."

    Who was TB and RW's coach?? Bit of a slap in the face there, really!
    Love the Linford Scandal,
    Love the whole "'There's nothing you can give me personally - let's be real!' two fingers up to Dave Collins-

    Really enjoyable read IMO. I'm eager to see how Tim and Rhys perform in the summer now!

  • #2
    i dont know why he thinks it will take a miracle to win a medal in track for britain in 2012, that is a long time in track for phenoms to develop, and even at age 38-39 radcliffe will be tough in her own country.