by George Willoughby
Last year, Welsh athlete Jonathan Hopkins represented Wales at the Commonwealth Games. Now, he is looking for a Team GB appearance at Tokyo 2020. Gair Rhydd Sport spoke to Hopkins to talk about his journey, representing Wales and the importance of not losing focus on educational life.
Steeplechase can be defined as an obstacle event in athletics where runners will have to hurdle barriers as well as dealing with water jumps. The water jumps alter the lap distance, either making it shorter or longer. The distance is usually 3,000 meters, but the event can also be a total of 2,000.
Without a doubt, life as an athlete is demanding, and Hopkins started his athletics journey early in his teenage years.
“I was playing a variety of different sports but realised I had the potential to do quite well in running.
“I decided to move to America to train at a university out there which kind of backfired on me. I didn’t run for two-and-a-half-years because I was injured and ill and the environment didn’t suit me.”
“My Dad was a steeplechaser when he was younger and he and my high-school coach at the time persuaded me to give steeplechase a go and try and qualify for the Commonwealth Games in 2018.”
Setting this goal was certainly a lofty ambition given the amount of time Hopkins had been inactive. He was unable to train and was trying a new event for the first time. Hopkins said this was all a part of a “four-year plan” and he realised early on that he was a talented steeplechaser.
“I got better each year,” Hopkins told Gair Rhydd Sport.
“I qualified for the Commonwealth Games last year and placed sixth in Australia in the steeplechase.”
The physical and mental toll competing at such a high level is something that should not be overlooked. Unfortunately for Hopkins, even after representing Wales in the Gold Coast, he missed out on Team GB and did not make the World Championships in Doha. Knockbacks are a big part of making it to the top, and Hopkins was fully aware that his journey has not been a straight path.
“As I have got older I have realised that there will be big blips.
“You have to overcome these obstacles and it is all worthwhile when it comes back together.”
“I spent three weeks in France on a training camp at altitude in September and I went up there on my own. It was three weeks of eat-sleep-train and it got me back on track.”
The Steeplechase is far more technical than just simply running. The hurdles and water jump add a whole different dynamic. When he started training for the event, Hopkins quickly realised that he had a natural talent and mentioned the importance of enjoyment.
“I immediately felt like I found the event that was for me,” stated the Welshman.
“It brought back a love for the sport and motivation and I want to get close to the Welsh record. I think I am about 12 seconds off the all-time rank.
“When I was in America [running] became a job, now I enjoy what I am doing.”
Representing Wales has always been a dream for Hopkins. Unsurprisingly, when he achieved this feat in Australia, he was ecstatic.
“It was the best feeling I ever had, Hopkins told Gair Rhydd Sport.
“It gave me so much fuel and motivation and I went on to have my best ever track season.”
“A lot of people have said to me that I still have not had my GB vest, but if you said to me compete for Wales at the highest level at the Commonwealth games or have a GB International vest, I would always pick running for Wales. It was a dream come true.”
Hopkins has continued to strive for more out of his steeplechase career. This is synonymous with his athletic journey as a whole. Whatever the setback or challenge, he finds a way to stay motivated and perform to the best of his ability. The next target, Tokyo 2020 and the European Championships and Hopkins says “he is on track.”
“Next summer is the Olympic Games and the European Championships so we have two goals.
The minimum is to go to the European Championships with the lofty goal to compete in Tokyo.”
“I have to run a little bit quicker than my personal best for the Olympic Games and for the European Championships I just need to replicate the times I have already run.”
A mistake that athletes and anyone involved with sports can make is to forget about what life will be like after competing. This could be through a sudden injury or retirement, either way, you need something to fall back on. Hopkins recognises this.
Now, he is currently in the first year of a BSc in Occupational Therapy at Cardiff University. It is all about finding the balance said, Hopkins.
“I did a degree in environmental science and nutrition and I was interested in anatomy and nutrition and it helped me with my training.
“Once I finished my first degree I worked part-time in a hospital so I always had something to switch off from my training.”
The 27-year-old has a fantastic story, and Team GB selection would be another accolade to his growing stature in Welsh Athletics. Hopkins was the 2018 Welsh 5k champion and picked up bronze in the Welsh indoor 1,500m in the same year.
“At the moment, I am in the best place I have ever been in. Fitness-wise, my lab results are the best they have been and I am running faster than I have ever run [before].”
If there is something you take from this piece, it should be to always persevere and find a balance at the same time. Use obstacles as a way to reignite your motivation, but remember, there is always more to life than just competing.