Jake Heyward: Welsh athlete aiming for 2018 Commonwealth Games glory

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Meet Jake Heyward, the rising star of Welsh athletics

It was October 2010 and an 11-year-old school pupil was recovering in hospital after having his appendix removed.

He spent his days watching the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and was inspired by the likes of hurdler Dai Greene and middle distance runner Gareth Warburton.

Now, the 17-year-old Jake Heyward is almost at that level himself.

Before he has even officially entered adulthood, Heyward holds the Welsh senior 800m and UK Under-20 1500m titles in addition to winning 1500m gold in the 2016 European Youth Championships.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he ended 2016 by being named Young Sportsman of the Year at the Wales Sports Awards.

"It's been amazing. The recognition I've had has been out of this world," he told BBC Wales Sport.

"It gives you confidence and belief that you can actually go on to achieve what you tell yourself."

Fitting in your homework

Jake Heyward
Jake Heyward won gold in the 1500m at the 2016 European Youth Championships

Heyward undoubtedly has talent and his coach says he spotted it when he first saw Jake running cross country aged 13.

But when you are combining a promising athletics career with your A Levels, it takes a lot of hard work too.

"It's not easy," Heyward admits. "I struggled to balance it all last year.

"On a Monday I'd get up at 6:30am, go to Sport Wales for a gym session, then maybe do a run after that. Then I'd go to school. Then after school I'd go for another run.

"I find training on your own lonely at times but it's something that's got to be done. I'm balancing it much better this year.

"It's about all the hard work you put in and seeing the success that comes out of it."

Going for the Gold Coast

Cararra Stadium
The athletics events at the 2018 Commonwealth Games will be held at the Carrara Stadium

Heyward is hoping not to be a Commonwealth Games spectator next time around.

With the 2018 Games just 14 months away, he hopes to achieve the qualification standard at the European Athletics Under-20 Championships this summer.

"It would be amazing," he smiles. "There's nothing like pulling on the red vest [of Wales]. It would be such an honour."

His coach, Paul Darney, has coached athletes to the Olympics before but he believes Heyward could be his best yet.

"In terms of ability, he can go all the way to the top," Darney claims. "He's very, very talented.

"He's got unique speed; real speed. If you see his races, you'll understand.

"The only thing stopping him from going to the Olympics would be an injury or something unforeseen."

Unfazed by early success

Jake Heyward
Jake Heyward also holds the Welsh senior 800m title

The hype surrounding this Cardiff teenager could be seen as overbearing but Heyward uses it as a motivation rather than a burden.

"It's really good," he maintains. "If you tell yourself you can do something, you can probably do it.

"This is just people reinforcing that idea. For any athlete, the pinnacle is the Olympic Games and that's definitely my dream," he continues.

"If you look at the progression I've had and the progression I need to have it's definitely realistic.

"It's about having a plan, sticking to it and knowing exactly what I need to do to get there."

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