Colin Jackson; Once an athlete, always an athlete

The 51-year-old is grateful that his athletic past means he can still touch his toes.
There’s something undeniably cheery about the Welsh accent, and ex-hurdler Colin Jackson adds to this with constant giggling and references to classic romcoms like Notting Hill.

But behind this sunny disposition, it’s evident Jackson has iron willpower. Other than natural talent, it was a whole lot of hard work that won him an Olympic silver medal and two golds in the World Championships during his athletics career. No biggie, but he still holds the world record for 60m indoor hurdles.

Now 51, Jackson admits his training schedule isn’t quite as gruelling as it used to be. And fair enough, he’s no longer competing – but this doesn’t mean he’s let himself go.
Once an athlete, always an athlete (or however the phrase goes). We spoke to Jackson about his training regime, the importance of exercise, and how he takes care of himself

What being a professional athlete is actually like?

“Being an athlete isn’t this glamorous life people always presume it is,” Jackson explains. “Everyone sees you travelling the world and having a good time, but they don’t see the other side of it – the strict regime.”

To perform at the top level of any sport requires an inordinate amount of hard work, and for Jackson it was no different. He won his first silver medal aged just 19 at the 1986 Commonwealth Games, and went on to have a blistering career.

“You do physically beat yourself up,” he says of his younger years. “Every day when you get up something hurts and aches. It’s not something you do just to keep fit, you know that your opponents are taking themselves to extremes and you have to match that.”

Even though his time as a professional athlete was tough at times, Jackson is grateful for his experiences. “When sport was my job, I didn’t see the benefits,” he explains. “But as I get older, I see that my body’s in much better nick than most other 50+ year-olds.”

For Jackson, being active means he can continue doing the things that he loves. “I can still touch my toes, which means I can still go snowboarding, skiing or play hours of tennis if I want to,” he says. “Being fit and healthy has extended my opportunities.”

What he does to stay in shape?

There’s no doubt Jackson is glad his days of competing are behind him: “I wouldn’t want to train to those extreme levels again!” he says with a laugh.

Instead, Jackson stays fit his way – which means an hour a day, five times a week, working out with his friends or playing some kind of sport.

“I do a lot of circuits and gym work,” he says. “I still go out on my bike and other forms of activity as well – it’s a lot more fun now I don’t have the pressure of competing.”

It’s given him a chance to experiment with things he would never have done before, such as his weekly yoga class and, he says, “I live in Wales with such an incredible coastline, so I can do all sorts of outdoor activities like paddleboarding.”

Why fitness is important to him?

For Jackson, the benefits of exercise are just as much mental as they are physical. “It produces positive endorphins in your body and your mind, and you get a real sense of achievement,” he explains. “That’s why sport plays a really important role in mental health.”

For someone whose career has been based around competing against others, Jackson has managed to maintain a healthy mindset. “Lots of the time in our everyday lives we’re comparing ourselves to other people, and that can have a really negative effect,” he says, “but if you’re active in sport and you achieve the things you personally set out to, it makes you feel genuinely better.”

Why you shouldn’t downplay the importance of food

One thing Jackson hasn’t managed to shake from his days competing is a preoccupation with food. “As an athlete, you’re always thinking about food,” he says. “You’re permanently on a diet, and diet is still very much a part of life for me.”

Jackson cites the wisdom beloved by gym bunnies; that a six-pack is made in the kitchen. He adds: “It’s very true – it’s much easier to get a six-pack by dieting than it is by exercise.

“Life is about a choice, and you decide how you choose. Concentrate on your diet, because the kitchen is the best gym ever.”

Colin Jackson hosted the Qube Awards, a ceremony hosted by leading training provider, Qube Learning, to celebrate the merits of apprentices, trainees and the employers who work with them.