Coach Jackson cracks the whip
By Sarah Holt
There is an awful lot of laughter at Cardiff Athletics Stadium, which is surprising given it is 1030 and Tim Benjamin is already out on the track training.
Jackson hopes to pass on his experience to young gun Benjamin
But the Welsh 400m runner has quickly learnt that when you hire Colin Jackson as your coach you can expect a high rate of laughter per lap.
Jackson sits on the high jump crash mat, screwing in the spikes of Benjamin’s new racers: "You’ll never normally see me doing this, I’m doing it under duress.
“I’m only going to put them in half-way so you trip up when you’re running,” Jackson jokes to Benjamin.
The pair have comfortably settled into their new coach-athlete relationship after their first winter training together.
Jackson, a double world 110m hurdle champion, offered to coach Benjamin, 25, and 400m hurdler Rhys Williams, 23, last September after a persuasive coffee with Britain’s former javelin world champion, Fatima Whitbread.
“She told me it was a real waste when I knew so much about athletics but wasn’t passing it on - and she was right,” explains Jackson, 40.
On my first day of training he asked me to do 600 sit-ups - I couldn’t
“I just didn’t think I would find any athletes who I would be happy to commit my time and effort to.”
As it happened, they found him. Williams, who won European bronze in 2006, came to him for technical advice on his hurdling.
Benjamin left his coach Tony Lester, sold his flat and was packed and ready to fly out to America - before Jackson put in the call and brought him home to Cardiff.
“It’s been awesome,” said Benjamin, who was on the same Welsh Commonwealth Games and Great Britain teams as Jackson in 2002 and 2003.
“He knows a lot about track and field and I bring the experience of 400m to him. We have a very good relationship.”
So is ‘Jackson the coach’ akin to a fiery Alex Ferguson or an ice-cool Sven-Goran Eriksson?
TIM BENJAMIN FACTFILE
Personal best: 44.56 seconds
Honours: British AAAs champion (2002, 2004-06), European 4x400m silver (2006), Commonwealth 4x400m silver (2002)
Other claim to fame: Beat Olympic and world champion Jeremy Wariner in 2005
“He’s Colin Jackson,” Benjamin answers with more than a little awe. "He’s a really cool guy. I’ve never seen him in a mood or sad.
“He brings fun and enjoyment to training. He doesn’t shout at me but I know what he expects of me.”
Jackson, who held the 110m hurdle world record for almost 13 years, sets his standards high and wasted no time telling his new charges they were a long, long way below them.
“You’ve heard how brutal I can be?” joked Jackson. “I can be very brutal when it’s needed.”
What Jackson identified in both Benjamin and Williams was a lack of general fitness and conditioning that he described as “shocking”.
He set about devising a new training schedule which included three gym sessions a week and less rest periods between repetition runs on the track.
“On my first day of training he asked me to do 600 sit-ups,” said Benjamin, who admits to being pushed so hard by Jackson that he vomited on the track.
"He can do 600 sit-ups and that is why in his eyes I was poorly conditioned, but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t fit under Tony Lester. I just wasn’t up to Colin’s standard.
RHYS WILLIAMS FACTFILE
Event: 400m hurdles
Personal best: 49.09 seconds
Honours: European bronze (2006), British AAAs champion (2006), European 4x400m silver (2006)
Other claim to fame: Son of Welsh rugby union wing JJ Williams
“I couldn’t do it then but I can now and I feel physically stronger. I’ve put on more muscle and so this season I’m getting used to a different way of running.”
Jackson’s exacting standards are a relic of his career-long relationship with no-nonsense coach Malcolm Arnold, who now coaches British sprinters Jason Gardener and Craig Pickering.
“There are lots of elements that I use that are definitely Malcolm Arnold,” says Jackson, who looks very un-Arnold standing trackside in his stylish jeans and black wind cheater.
“The professionalism and the way I try to communicate with my athletes come from Malcolm wanting his athletes to be thinkers and to take responsibility.”
Jackson also plans to plunder the expertise of double Olympic 400m hurdle champion Ed Moses and five-time Olympic gold-medal winning sprinter Michael Johnson.
And after winning 11 individual medals at major championships, Jackson will also rely on his own experiences in guiding Benjamin and Williams.
“Michael and Ed know they better be on call when I need them,” warns Jackson, who is waiting until the season gets under way to make those calls.
“Tim is doubting and wondering about what lies ahead this summer and that’s when I have to put my athlete’s hat back on. I do genuinely understand all the anxieties he is feeling.”
Benjamin and Williams claimed European 4x400m silver in 2006
After a 2006 disrupted by injury, Benjamin has set his sights on breaking the 45-second barrier again and reaching the final of the World Championships in Japan. Williams is recovering from a foot injury and is yet to resume training.
“I feel very strange because the training is so different,” says Benjamin, whose fears look pretty unfounded as he blitzes through 300m in 36 seconds on a relaxed training run.
"The reason I changed coaches two years before an Olympics is because things don’t happen overnight and this first year may not go as I want it to.
“But next year my goal, and Colin’s as my coach, is to get an individual Olympic medal in Beijing.”
While Benjamin is definite about what he wants to gain from his new coach, Jackson’s own incentives are less clear.
The Welshman, who is a television pundit and presenter for the BBC, does not receive any kind of financial support from UK Athletics to coach Benjamin and Williams. He does not charge them, just as Arnold did not charge him.
“What am I getting out of it? I couldn’t honestly tell you,” says Jackson, stumped for once.
"Every day we are here at the track and my life revolves around these guys now. It’s like having kids, trust me.
“But we are having a huge amount of fun and it gives me great pleasure. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I have.”
Jackson notoriously failed to win an Olympic gold medal, but if he ended up coaching a champion would that go some way to making amends?
“No, not at all,” he says. "I helped my training partner (Mark McKoy) win the Olympic gold that I was supposed to win so coaching kids won’t make me feel much better.
“But if Tim and Rhys deliver what they are capable of then they should win gold medals - and if they do it will all be down to them.”
RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
Flora London Marathon
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites