A Chat with Colin Jackson – World Records and Wings for Life

Last updated: 05-Nov-18


Please click the screen above to view the Wings for Life World Run as streamed on Sunday May 7th 2017.

By Luke Jarmey

As one of Britain’s and for that matter the world’s, greatest ever athletes; Colin Jackson held the 110m hurdles world record for 13 years and still to this day, holds the world record for the 60m hurdles. Well, I for one could spend all day chatting to Colin about his exploits in athletics. But the real purpose of this interview is to jump into one his roles of the past few years, as International Sports Director of the Wings for Life World Run. A charity race with a rather unique format, held simultaneously in over 25 countries across the globe.

Q. Really appreciate you taking your time to chat here Colin. For me and I expect a whole bunch of runners reading this, you’ve been a huge sporting inspiration. Although this isn’t the primary focus of the interview, I’ve just got to rewind it all back for a bit first and briefly touch on your early life and career.

So, where and when did athletics start for you? And at what point did you realise you could craft it into a career, so to speak?

A. My athletics career really started for me when I won my first trophy at the age of 4 for placing 3rd in a school fun race in the city of Cardiff. I didn’t think anything of it at the time and wasn’t expecting it to ever become my career but by 19 I competed in the Commonwealth Games where I won a silver and also took the world junior title.

Q. I’ve read that you consider your World Junior Championship 110m Hurdle win at 19, your greatest ever race achievement. Why is this and why that race over the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, where you broke the world record?

A. The World Junior Championships was my most important race because I was injured going into the champs and wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to run, so I was doubting myself considerably to whether I could perform. To actually win it and break the national record – second fastest junior of all time in that particular race – I just said to myself ‘wow, even with an injury I can do it!’ and that gave me the confidence to realise my ability.

Q. So your 110m hurdles record, stood for an incredible 13 years. However, your 60m record, is still standing there strong. With a finger on the pulse of the athletics world, do you believe it will be broken any time soon?

A. My 110m hurdle record stood for 13 years, which I was surprised about, but the 60m hurdle world record which I set in 1994 is a pretty tough one to beat. If there was anything that’s close to perfect it was that race which makes it tough for anyone to break it, even if I do say so myself.

Q. OK moving onto the dark and dangerous world of television presenting, how did that all kick off?

A. Well, the executives from the BBC approached me whilst I was still competing and said that they would like me to join the team. They told me that it may be something that I’d enjoy and I should give it a go. Initially I said no. However, they convinced me to give them at least 2 years once I’d retired and 14 years later I’m still with the BBC.

Q. Watching as a viewer, you’ve always seemed to have a natural gift for being in front of the camera. Do you believe that’s the case or did you have to work hard behind the scenes to become comfortable presenting?

A. I actually wanted to become a producer and never ever wanted to be in front of the camera, so for me it was a lot of hard work to become confident in front of the camera and believe in the topics. I always think if you believe in your topic, it’s always easy to present on it.

Q. I could ask you a million more questions about your career, but to save you writing a very long essay, let’s dive into the main event, the Wings for Life World Run. Can you give us an overview of what it’s all about and what the adjoining Wings for Life Foundation represents?

A. The Wings for Life Foundation is a not-for-profit spinal cord injury research foundation that was set up with the sole purpose to raise funds to support ongoing research. Once we’ve managed to do that we can raise awareness and help as many people as we possibly can.

The money raised by the Wings for Life Foundation is used to fund research projects with some of the world’s best scientists, so the more money we raise, the more opportunity they have to get the resources they need to work on finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.

The Wings for Life World Run is our biggest annual fundraiser. For example, on a single day last year we raised 6.6 million euros for Wings for Life which comes through as a mixture of donations and start fee’s for the event. 100% of this money goes directly to spinal cord injury research and not a penny of this money is spent for administration or travel etc. This is something that myself and all of the team is very proud of!

The run itself is pretty different because it has a start line but no finish line – a ‘catcher car’ leaves from the start line 30 minutes after the race has started and gradually increases in speed, catching up with people along the race route. Once the catcher car has caught up with you, that’s when you’ve finished the race. It’s a really fun concept which all of our runners seem to love because you don’t have the pressure of reaching a measured finishing line!

Q. How did you become involved in all of this and what does your role as International Sports Director entail?

A. It was pretty obvious for me once I heard what the foundation was all about and if I’d like to be part of the team to set up the Wings for Life World Run. Of course I said yes! It was such a huge task and all I’d learnt in setting up my own event, Go Dad Run, helped me in hopefully delivering exactly what they wanted for Wings for Life.

As the international sport director my role is to go and visit some of the race venues, meet the project leaders around the world and see how they are engaging with the project, make sure our ambassadors are engaged and really create as much enthusiasm as possible globally. When I get to the race control centre in May I’ll be there talking to the press and media and liaising with the teams on the ground to make sure they need help with anything.

Q. Ok there have been three editions of the race so far. Have they all run smooth as butter, or have there been any organizational challenges to overcome along the way?

A. A huge global event such as the Wings for Life World Run never comes without its own set of challenges and we anticipate things to go wrong from time to time, however we have a fantastic team of people across the world who are dedicated to the project which means that we can resolve any issues straight away. As a team we never take anything for granted and see each challenge as an opportunity to improve.

Q. Any particular moments during the events that have really stood out for you on an emotional or just memorable level?

A. When we watch the event from the global race control centre it’s quite breath-taking to see the emotion people show when they’ve been caught by the catcher car.

I think it’s great when you see people suddenly accelerate as soon as they see the catcher car coming up behind them and you can see in people’s emotions, not the relief, but almost a sense of disappointment that they’ve finally been caught which is great in a sense, because I want people to return the year after and try and push themselves further!

For me it’s always amazing to watch people and at the end of the event when they get together they really understand why they are doing it and you can see that people are truly touched by the event, whether you see people hugging people in wheelchairs, their family, their friends, it’s a very emotional time for them and its that emotional honesty I love to see.

Q. We’re an ultra running website by trade, so interested to know roughly, what proportion of competitors break the 26.2-mile marathon barrier? What’s the furthest someone’s ran and who are they?

A. Well, last year the winner of the men, Giorgio Calcaterra, got to 88km before he was caught by the car and around 450 men made the marathon distance globally.

The winning woman was Kaori Yoshida who ran 65km and around 45 women made the marathon distance. It’s quite a healthy percentage of people who actually make that marathon mark.

Q. Impressive! Is there still time for people to enter the 2017 event?

A. Yes! Get involved, check out the website, choose your location and I’ll see you on the TV from global race control!

Q. On to the charitable side of the event and really the primary purpose of it all. Are we seeing progress made in spinal cord injury research as a result of the 13.8 million euros raised from the past three races?

A. Yes we are! We have had some great collaborations with the Christopher Reeves Foundation and there are some incredible strides being made in research.

If you check out the Wings for Life Foundation website you can certainly find out more information on what we are doing. There has been some exciting progress already but still so much more to be done!

To date Wings for Life has funded 142 spinal cord research projects worldwide. Our scientists work at well respected institutes such as Cambridge University (UK), Harvard Medical School (USA), Karolinska Institute (Sweden) and Charité Berlin (Germany).

Q. Fantastic. Ok to wrap this up, have you got any exciting future projects brewing away?

A. As well as working with the Wings for Life Foundation, I started my own charitable project, Go Dad Run, back in 2013 after two of my uncles developed prostate cancer. Unfortunately, one of them lost his battle with cancer which is what spurred me on to establish the Go Dad Run race series.

Since our inaugural race back in 2013, we’ve since grown to hold a number of races all across the UK and we now support a number of national and local charities who focus on the research and treatment of cancers, support of cancer sufferers and support for men with mental health issues.

We work closely with Prostate Cancer UK, Bowel Cancer UK, Orchid Cancer Care and CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably. All of which do fantastic work to support men across the UK who are suffering with cancers and mental health issues.

It seems that it is still such a taboo subject for men to talk about their health, but not talking about it or being open about any problems men might have will just delay any possible treatment.

Go Dad Run is open to men and boys of all ages to get involved and I initially set up Go Dad Run to raise funds and awareness for men’s health issues but it’s actual manifested into much more than that. Go Dad Run is a national community of male runners, walkers and joggers who want to help share our message; let’s talk, let’s be proactive, let’s keep ourselves healthy!

You can register to participate and find out more info on our social media pages or website www.godadrun.co.uk.

Thanks so much Colin it’s been a pleasure.


Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool.

#WingsforLife #WorldRun

"a ‘catcher car’ leaves from the start line 30 minutes after the race has started and gradually increases in speed, catching up with people along the race route. Once the catcher car has caught up with you, that’s when you’ve finished the race"

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