Jackson - Advice to 110m Hurdlers [16-21 years]
the autumn of 1985, Graham Knight, then National Event
Coach in GB for 110m/100mH, interviewed Colin Jackson
for the Puma Sprint Hurdle Review. Colin had just won
his first medal in a GB vest in finishing 2nd in the
European Junior Champs of that year in Cottbus.
18 years later on the eve of Colin’s preparations
for the World Indoor Champs, a second interview took
place with the emphasis on Colin’s advice to the
next generation, - based on a cumulative total of 25
medals gained at the highest level in 60m, 60mH, 110mH
and 4 x 100m.
The advice is honest and in places controversial, but
in this country we often do not fully use the vast amount
of knowledge athletes and coaches acquire in the sport.
I know of no other person who has asked more questions
about the 110mH event, and who has consequently acquired
more knowledge about it than Colin. He has given of
his time generously to pass on some of this knowledge
to many gatherings of athletes and coaches in Britain,
and it is with the same questioning approach that athletes
and coaches should consider the advice in this interview.
The move up from 100mH to the 110mH is a crucial one,
and your coach has to be patient and definitely forceful.
I remember myself what it was like hitting those hurdles
and bruising my ankle so that I did not want to do it,
but my coach, Malcolm Arnold, always told me to ‘Get
out there and do it again and again if you want to be
a High Hurdler.’ I can remember him showing little
sympathy when I made a mistake and telling me to take
that pad out of my sock!
Your coach needs to be observant and able to pick up
the points of the individual hurdler because each hurdler
has different strengths and weaknesses. They have to
understand the hurdler’s posture because technique
changes completely from 3’0” to 3’6”,
and the coach has to work with that and not necessarily
change it because each athlete has natural movements.
I can recall swinging my lead leg right around to get
over a 3 ‘6” hurdle because the floor was
no longer at 3’0”, and in this phase of
development every progression must be done in stages.
When I was 16 I faced the dilemma of staying with my
first coach or moving on, but at the end of the day
it is an athlete’s career, and you have got to
make a decision that affects your career in a positive
way. Mike Jones, my first coach, was upset at the time
when I moved to Malcolm, but he is still in touch and
always congratulates me on what Malcolm and I have achieved.
I advise all athletes to think carefully about their
progression and their future, and when you start to
question your coach all the time, you know that it is
time to move on. At 16 I felt that nothing new was being
brought into training and the same things were being
repeated. 16 year olds are hungry to learn, and they
need fresh ideas to stimulate their minds and bodies
to move on and progress.
My training group is a No.1 priority because the people
you train with are going to be the people you spend
most of your time with. Each one has got to bring a
quality to the group. In all the groups I have worked
with, no one athlete has been totally dominant in all
aspects of training.
Each one had individual strengths, e.g. Nigel Walker
on the hills, Mark McKoy doing sprints, I was the best
hurdler, and the girls were best in the gym pound for
pound. When you are a bit tired, there are always people
around to pick you up. It is important for the group
to bond particularly well. From 16-21 I was working
with some of the top people in the country, and we were
all good at something without any ego problems. There
was a day when I was the champion, and a day when I
was a loser.
(GK…a loser at what
consistently?) Circuits, 300s and long
runs! Now I am much more in control of my preparations.
I know what I have to do before I see Malcolm, and if
I have not done it, he will know.
From 16-21 there was no indoor track at UWIC, and the
Swansea indoor area had just opened where we could run
over 5 hurdles and a hit a crash mat. We trained on
a cinder track with an occasional visit to the only
synthetic track at Cwmbran. I always wonder or worry
when athletes and coaches use the lack of facilities
as an excuse because we had to warm-up outside in wet-suits
when it was raining before doing 300s, 200s and 100s
on the track.
I personally don’t think it is a big issue, and
if you have a track, just go on and get on with it.
Don’t worry about having nice indoor facilities,
in fact I never even went WWT from 16 to 21.
(GK…is there not
a risk factor in this?) A huge risk
factor, and, as you get older you become more fragile,
and then you definitely need to go somewhere warmer
and safer. I remember clearing ice off the track in
one lane in this phase, which was an obvious risk. It
was -12° outside, and we did a blocks session where
I pulled my hamstring!
In early preparation phase, long runs blended with other
bits of conditioning are vital. I have to be in great
shape in order to hurdle well, and so this combination
of running and conditioning is critical. An element
of speed is included all the year round, so tomorrow
(Nov 15th) I am doing 1 x 300m in about 36 seconds,
followed by 10 x 90m with the emphasis on acceleration
and tempo in the latter. Before I even consider training
over the 3’6” hurdles, I have got to get
my body into great shape to clear the high hurdles,
and I will not go over a hurdle until the end of November.
The athletes in the 16-21 age-group need the conditioning
far more than I do because they are far more vulnerable
as I have years of conditioning behind me. They need
to be conditioned very well before they even think about
clearing hurdles. Their season usually finishes much
earlier than ours, and so they have more time to rest.
In the first four weeks, do more general stuff, - circuits,
long runs, flexibility-, and this combination will allow
you to progress to the specific preparations of the
Forget 3’3” and go straight to 3’6”
because otherwise you’re going to have to learn
again. There is a huge, huge difference in balance and
ground strike, and you don’t want to learn twice
in less than five years. Get used to learning how to
handle the 3’6” barriers as soon as possible.
You need to be accurate in your drills, and the coach’s
powers of observation are important in this, and you
must have good core strength and balance.
As you know I’m always positive about an active
trailing leg, and this is the more important thing for
me to be successful. This must be in concert with great
rhythm, and I go back a lot to 3’0” barriers
to get my rhythm accurate. I do a session of 4 x 10H
out of blocks, -full spacings over 3’0”
barriers, and this is just to instil rhythm
(GK…this is an old
Calvesi/Drut session, but who persuaded you of the need
to do this?) Roger Kingdom after Seoul
said this session gave him the timing and rhythm in
the second half of the race, which is what he needed
at that time to beat me. It was important at this time
for me to have the right people around me to consider
me as an individual because I was never going to be
built like Roger Kingdom. I had to take my skills and
my strengths and work on them to make them even better,
and hurdling has always been one of my greatest skills.
The hurdle session which Roger suggested proved to be
perfect for me.
I did not lift weights between the ages of 16 and 21,
and I would not change today. I advise everyone to finish
their growing spurts first and to get their natural
strength going because you need a sense of progression.
I spent a large proportion of my time doing circuits
and plyometrics in this phase. I did not use machines
either, but I did do a lot of strength stuff with a
bar to get a good, stable core.
I did no cleans, bench or squats until I was 21 after
Seoul. In my opinion we do not have enough good coaches
in GB who can teach 16/17 year olds the proper skills
of lifting, and like everything else you have got to
get your body ready to do this specific work.
(CJ’s current p.b.s
240kg squat to a bench, 145kg clean, 140kg bench 97.5kg
At 16/17 everything was very dynamic, -press-ups, back
arches, sit-ups, lots of ab work, bench jumps, single-
and double-leg tiggers, skis etc. This type of conditioning
work is interesting, dynamic and tiring. Dance exercises
were included for abductors and adductors.
We developed the circuits ourselves (hence some of the
individual names for exercises) because Malcolm could
only see us three times a week. This is another good
reason for having a creative training group around you,
and this type of work became very applied and specific
and we were always ready to pick up a good idea from
someone else. I remember an abdominal exercise, which
we used and called “Tom’s”, because
I got the original idea from Tom McKean, and the group
decided it would be beneficial. I advise all athletes
to experiment, but like everything else it is important
to do the exercises well and correctly. It is useful
to remember that if they hurt, you are doing them well,
but if they don’t –trust me- you are almost
certainly not doing them well.
My least favourite exercise in circuits is ‘Dance’,
where the body movement not only caused exhaustion but
also brought in a lot of muscle groups, which I was
not used to using. I have asked Malcolm to show the
guys at Bath what the girls were capable of in this
training because it would help. Many athletes would
not consider experimenting with this because if you
are clumsy and non-rhythmical, you would not want to
The most important part of all-round conditioning is
REST. I now rest completely on Sunday, and this when
I wind down totally. When I was 16/17/18, I did not
rest properly because Thursday and Friday were the nights
to be out, but I soon learned. My advice would be to
have a complete day’s rest in the winter and two
days in the summer.
I would urge athletes to try to get a massage at least
once a week, -the day before the rest day-, and to look
after their bodies the rest of the time. Physio should
only be visited if necessary.
Things have certainly changed, and I can congratulate
everyone in the Federation because athletes can now
get tested regularly and looked at properly, and for
us that would have been great.
(GK…Screening?) Twice a year, I think, in October
and at the end of March.
Lifestyle is very individual, and what turns you on,
turns you on. But if you want to be a really, really
good athlete, then there is no lifestyle, just athletics.
Yes, if you GENUINELY want to be good.
My parents gave me support to be a full-time athlete
until I was 21, and if it had not gone well, they told
me I would have to go and get a job. I would definitely
have been ready to relocate from my Cardiff home to
a Performance Centre if this meant getting the best
input for me, i.e. specific expertise in areas to help
me to achieve my goals. It is interesting to see that,
just as industry loses specific expertise without replacing
it, so does our sport.
My Mum asked me about moving to Millfield at 14, but
it would not have been a good move at that time, but
at 16 most of the friends that I used to socialise with
left Cardiff, so it would not have been a problem for
me then. My parents both worked, so I was used to providing
for myself and entertaining myself until they got home
At 16 I used to eat too much, burgers, but no chips,
and I was probably overweight. I started to eat healthily
at 19, and, although I can remember being far more aware
of what I was eating, I can’t recall what changed
my attitude. I was never a beer or lager drinker, and
I just did not like alcohol. I would advise anyone to
be sensible about this, but the truth is “don’t
Excess is possible at a young age because the repair
mechanism of the human body is incredible, and you do
get over things much more quickly from 16-18 than 26-28.
A bit of freedom can be important as long as you make
it the exception rather than the norm. The best time
to let go is during your rest period at the end of the
season, but even here the first part of this is the
best because at the end you should be building up and
getting ready for training again.
Just be grateful that I’m not on the Lottery Board!
I would be very forceful because in industry no company
in the world gives out money without knowing exactly
what it is being spent on. Unless I knew people with
a reputable coach and a reliable situation, then they
would not be receiving any funding. It is not free money,
it is for athletics, and it is to help you to represent
your country well, -not just for you to do sport.
I think that 100 on the Potential Plan is about right,
but I have always wondered about the numbers on the
Performance Plan (GK…247
when Malcolm Arnold conceived the Plan in May 1997 to
not sure what “performance” is judged on
because I have always worked towards a single target
in each season, which is the crowning glory of the season.
I cannot think of 25 athletes in GB, never mind 78,
who match my standards of performance, and these standards
are obviously much higher than those of the Federation.
I have situations where support for a few rather many
has worked more times than it has failed.
I would support funding for WWT and massage, but I wonder
how many athletes get sound massage rather than social
massage because you only need massage if you are working
hard. Without doubt I would look carefully at each athlete
and their individual circumstances before approving
I know my views are hard, but we are in a Performance
sport, and when we talk about funding in this way, we
are talking about funding the shop window of the sport.
Therefore the shop window has to be absolutely awesome
if you are talking about anything coming through from
the grass roots. It’s no good having crap in the
shop window because no one’s going to come in,
and I’ll stand by that.
GK…What would you have changed in your situation
from 16 to 21?
My intensity, I don’t think I would have been
as intense as I was in those years. However, I needed
to know everything about my event and my rivals because
at that time it gave me fuel and energy.
GK…Do athletes work
as hard now?
No, people don’t work as hard, but every generation
comes out with this statement.
GK…Why have you run 60m in competition more than
There has never been more time for more 100ms. We do
enough specific work for more 100m races, but in a full
season of 110mH there is not time to do it properly.
You need a succession of races to develop the skills
to perform well, and for me it is all about running
well. If I did have the time, I would certainly love
to run more.
GK…When you broke
the world record in 1993 for 110mH, what do you think
12.91 would have been worth for 100m?
A bit quicker than your suggestion of 10.10! I am the
only person who has run 6.49 for the 60m indoors who
has not run quicker than 10.10 for the 100m. If you
look at it that way, I would say 10.07 because I have
to be quicker than McKoy who has run 10.08!
GK…What do you think
it will take to win the medals in Athens in 2004, and
to make the final in 2004?
what do you think the world record for 110mH will be