Sports Editor Alex O’Loughlin catches up with Southampton based former Olympic athlete Iwan Thomas on life post athletics.
Just one in 14,000 people become professional athletes, and former Olympic athlete Iwan Thomas has defied the odds once again to find a second calling away from the track.
Injuries plagued the 400m runner’s 14 year career at the top of world athletics – although Thomas still became World, European and Commonwealth champion competing in both 400m and the 4x400m relay – but a “second career” looks destined to be just as successful.
Thomas, whose planned swan song from athletics at the 2006 Commonwealth Games was cruelly dashed by a torn hamstring, has successfully transferred into the niche industry of television presenting, something the 40-year-old sees as a silver lining for a career blighted by injury.
“I would much rather have had more years at the top of athletics and finished my career on a high note and been able to control my own destiny but that’s what happens in life. You either sink or swim and try and reinvent yourself and I think I have been quite lucky to do that really,” he says.
“Someone paid me the biggest compliment the other day when they said ‘you’re quite lucky really because you were one of the 1% of the population who make it as a top athlete and now you’re part of the 1% who make it in TV’, so I am quite lucky in that sense.”
Thomas continued: “It’s sort of a second career for me; if I could have looked into a genie’s lamp a few years ago and seen that I would never come back from my injuries I would probably have started my TV work a lot earlier.”
Now a regular reporter on the BBC’s The One Show, the 1998 Welsh Sports Personality of the Year enjoys the spontaneity associated with television work.
He said: “I would never turn my back on sport but it is quite nice doing things on The One Show to do with narcolepsy, World War II or whatever else.
“It is nice that I do reports on anything and not just sport, which I suppose is a compliment in one way as they think I am a reporter and not just some ex-athlete who can only talk about sport.”
However, the competitive nature which saw Thomas rise to the top of world athletics hasn’t faded post retirement, with marathons, triathlons and gruelling swims the latest sports to gain Thomas’ attention.
“I miss the buzz of competition so since I have retired I have pushed myself to try other things,” he says.
“I’ve done the last five London marathons and do triathlons every year; I had a bad experience at Blenheim triathlon last year when I had a bit of a panic attack but the next week I swam Lake Windermere, so I like to try and push myself.”
Whilst Thomas runs and splashes his way across land and sea up and down the country his 400m British record time of 44.36s would have earned him a silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games, something which both pleases and frustrates the former athlete.
Thomas said: “I think it shows that the sport still hasn’t moved on. I am obviously really proud to be the fastest Brit ever but for my sport I would have liked someone to have come along and run faster and it is a bit of a shame that they haven’t.”
Whilst Thomas is left frustrated by the lack of 400m British talent, he’s more than happy with his progress away from the track.
“I would still like to be working in TV in five years time; I don’t know where I will be in 5-10 years but hopefully still healthy and happy, I may still be trying to jog round the London marathon, who knows!”