Wales

Steve Jones, the quiet Welshman

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The athlete Steve Jones is one of those characters who are often overlooked by the press and public alike. He is quiet and modest about his achievements but the fact remains that he is one of the most successful long-distance runners ever produced in Britain.

Born in Tredegar on 4 August 1955, Steve Jones grew up in the steel town of Ebbw Vale. After school he joined the RAF, training as an aircraft technician. He had always enjoyed athletics, invariably focusing on long-distance races like the 10,000 metres.

However, in 1983 he decided to concentrate on even longer distance events and began training for the marathon, an event that many people considered was his natural distance. Be that as it may, he was forced to drop out of his first event, the 1983 Chicago Marathon, suffering from exhaustion.

Undeterred, just one year later the quiet Welshman was back – and this time he won the Chicago event.

He didn't just win the race, he smashed everybody else out of sight. His time was 2 hours, 8 minutes and 5 seconds.

What made Jones' achievement so much more remarkable was the fact that his victory came just two months after he finished eighth in that year's 10,000 metre race at the Olympic Games. Clearly a glittering future beckoned.

Unlike many other athletes, however, Steve Jones did not immediately give up "the day job" and become a full-time runner. He was committed to his career in the RAF and managed to balance the life of a globetrotting athlete with his job as an aircraft technician.

It wasn't always easy and there were many days when he had to miss his lunch and other off-duty periods in order to train. Sometimes he was putting in many hundreds of training miles each week and still reporting for duty on time each morning.

On Wednesday afternoon, always the traditional time for RAF sports, Jones would run in cross country events for his station, then turn out on Saturdays for his home athletics club, Newport Harriers.

Success on the international stage continued to come his way – along, it must be said, with the occasional failure. In 1986 he won a bronze medal in the 10,000 metres at the Commonwealth Games, but a few months later finished a disastrous 20th in the marathon at the European Championships.

In that particular race he had led from the start, establishing a huge lead and it seemed as if no-one would catch him. But at the 20 mile mark he suddenly hit what distance runners call "the wall" and was seen to be struggling badly. Jones refused to give up and limped on, unable to respond as other runners steadily passed him by.

Two years later Jones was back to his best when he won the New York City Marathon, leading in the field by over three minutes. It was some form of compensation for him and his many fans.

In a long and distinguished career, Steve Jones was awarded the accolade of 1985 Welsh Sports Personality of the Year. He still holds the British Men's Marathon Record and was the first Welshman to feature on the cover of Racing Times Magazine. He lives, now, in Boulder, Colorado.

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