Jake Heyward has been no stranger to success over the last few years. A top Welsh talent through the age groups, he has been a constant feature in the Welsh team for the Celtic Games, finishing on the podium at every attempt. His electric top speed has always made him a threat but he’s not just a fast finisher. He hasn’t finished outside the UK top 10 in his age group over 800m since 2013 and had been steadily moving up his age group rankings over 1500m over that same time frame. However, steadily is no longer an appropriate word to describe Heyward’s progress. His meteoric rise to the top of the rankings not just against his current U20 competitors, but against every U20 competitor in history, began with his first major international medal, gold over 1500m at the European Athletics Youth Championships in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2016.
He continued to build on his stellar international career the following season by again striking gold over 1500m, this time at the U20 European Athletics Championships in Grosseto, Italy. In a slow race that has become typical for 1500m at major championships, Jake found himself leading and revealed yet another ace in the hole, showing tactical savvy beyond his years. He didn’t panic as the stellar field bunched and tussled behind him – in fact, he held an air of calmness that suggested he was out on a weekday running reps around Cardiff Met’s blue track. He looked at home as held the inside line and refused to give up the lead or get boxed in, even as the field went four wide on his shoulder coming up to the bell. Injecting pace throughout the final lap Heyward continued to look smooth as he kept the field at bay and down the home straight, despite running a 52 for his final lap, he looked relaxed in both stride and composure to add another continental gold to his growing collection. Such was the maturity and tactical finesse of his run he drew some comparisons to master tactician Matthew Centrowitz Jr. and his Olympic gold in Rio 12 months earlier.
However, even by Heyward’s stellar standards, 2018 has been something special despite starting off in atypical fashion for the young Welshman. A relatively poor showing at the British University 800m championships (7th place) was swiftly forgotten as he equaled his 1500m best (3:42) in Belgium before slicing over two seconds off his best in Oslo to go 3:39.84 – good for 3rd best in the UK U20 all time rankings.
Not even nearly done, Heyward won gold in the U20 1500m championships earning the front cover of Athletics Weekly
— Athletics Weekly (@AthleticsWeekly) June 20, 2018
before running a two second PB in the 800m and then qualifying for the final and coming 4th at the IAAF World Junior Championships 1500m in Tampere, Finland. The incredible field included 17-year-old Jakob Ingebrigsten (who ran 3:31 shortly after) and eventual winner George Manangoi, the brother of 2017 World 1500m Champion, Elijah. Heyward’s 4th place finish was the best finish at that race by a Brit for 32 years. Another race, another mark in history.
You may be thinking, and quite rightly so, that this must be the highlight of Heyward’s incredible 2018 season. You’d be wrong. On the 22nd of July 2018, 10 days after his first global final, Heyward ran 3:36.90 in the Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium, missing Scotsman Graham Williamson’s once considered untouchable UK Junior 1500m record by a mere 0.3 seconds. Williamson ran that time in Olso, en-route to a mile in July 1979 and the fact it has stood for over 39 years shows it is good, but until Heyward, no UK runner had come within 2 seconds of it and outside of Niall Brooks 2010 run, the next closest was Steve Cram’s U20 best of 3:40.02 – a staggering 3.42 seconds behind. He’s also the first man to get within two seconds of the Neil Horsfield’s 28-year-old Welsh record of 3:35.08. Horsfield best time as a junior was 3:44.42. Put into this context you begin to realise just how fast Heyward has run.
Heyward will finish this season faster than Coe, Cram and Ovett were at the same point in their careers. He’s also got bragging rights over his coach, James Thie who holds a PB of 3:37.06, as well as his entire training group which includes 3:37.44 runner and fellow Welshman Tom Marshall, who competed in the Commonwealth Games earlier this year. If he can find an extra 0.31 seconds he’ll finish his junior career as the fastest UK junior in history.
With his devastating finishing speed and a PB so far below 3:40 Heyward has become one of the most exciting 1500m prospects in Welsh and UK running in decades. You couldn’t beat Jake Heyward in a sprint finish, you had to run away from him. For now, that requires running 3:36, maybe faster. Good luck.