Colin Jackson is one of the greatest athletes ever to come from the UK. His 110 metre hurdles World Record of 12.91 seconds stood for 13 years, and his World Indoor Record for the 60 metres hurdles still stands today.

His impressive medal haul is matched by his equally remarkable broadcasting career: he has covered every major athletics event for the BBC since 2004.

He’s since become an important figurehead for diversity, inclusion and mental health. He recently discussed his battle with bulimia on BBC1’s Panorama programme, and he talks openly and honestly about the challenges he’s faced throughout his career: anxiety, race and sexuality.

In this episode Colin talks about how he overcame great challenges to become the fastest hurdler in the world, how he maintains a high level of fitness, and shares his joy of a quiet night in, in front of the TV, with a cup of Horlicks.


Transcript


Graham:

Welcome to the Power of Ten, a new series brought to you by Decathlon. The Power of Ten is a mix of one to one interviews, plus some positive health tips. It's all about providing advice on how to improve your wellbeing, both in body and in mind.


We've got an impressive selection of talented guests lined up for the podcast series, all ready to impart their knowledge, advice and secrets for improving your fitness. Each episode will provide you with an easy take home message to help improve your mind and body. I'm Graham Bell, a five time Olympic skier turned reporter and presenter. I've been to a total of 10 Winter Olympic Games.


So what can I say about today's guest, Colin Jackson is one of the UK's greatest ever athletes. On a memorable night, in Stuttgart in 1993 he ran the 110m hurdles in 12.19 seconds, setting a world record that stood for a staggering thirteen years.


He set the indoor world record for 60 meters hurdles the following year, and that record of 7.30 seconds still stands today.


His medal haul across his career is staggering: two Commonwealth golds and two silvers, three European indoor golds for European golds, one indoor world championship gold and three silvers. And in the world championships, he's won two gold, two silver and bronze, plus a silver at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.


Following his exceptional career, Colin joined the BBC's athletics commentary team and has covered every major athletics event since 2004. He's since become an important figurehead for diversity, inclusion and mental health. He speaks from his heart openly and honestly about the challenges faced throughout his career anxiety, eating disorders, race and sexuality.


Colin is a member of the Steering Panel of Sport Relief and also an international inspiration ambassador for UNICEF, as well as a founding and fronting member of ‘Go Dad Run’, a campaign for prostate cancer. And he still finds time to do things like a weekly radio program with his sister and compete in Celebrity MasterChef and reach the final of Strictly Come Dancing in 2005. And now he's taking on the ice, appearing in the next series of Dancing on Ice alongside yours truly.


So, a warm welcome to the Power of 10, Colin Jackson.


Colin Jackson:

Hey, I'm really sorry for the intro. If I had known it was going to be this long, I would have retired much earlier.


Graham:

It’s extraordinary that your indoor world record still stands in a twenty six years after you broke it.


Colin Jackson:

It is a crazy world record, but, you know, it's one of these things where, you know, when everything lines up perfectly well. I had an exceptionally good start. My contacts on the floor were strong. Everything was just fast about the race itself. And I was sprinting faster than I've ever sprint before. I won the European indoor title for 60 metre flats the same year I broke that world indoor record. So I was very fast anyway. And everything just came together. And it's very rarely you have that moment where you truly feel you cannot do anything better. So I remember when I crossed the line and I looked at the clock, I thought it was a little bit slower than it actually was. And so my training partner was in the race, said to me, you need to look at the clock again properly and you'll see what time it says. And what I saw is a world record. You know, inside you. I was like, yes, outside. I was like, play it cool, cool.


Graham:

Anyway, so looking back at your athletics career, what would you say was the highlight?


Colin Jackson:

Well, the highlight of all those achievements, you know what, it's really all but I'm going to say something a lots of people will think, well, that's slightly random, but is winning the world junior title at the age of 19. And the reason why that is so special to me, it's because I had a lot of problems going into that competition. I was the favorite. I was clearly the favorite in the world to take the title, but I got injured about three weeks out and I wasn't sure whether I was actually going to make it to the start line of the World Junior Championships. I was selected actually to do the long jump to be in the relay team and to to do the hurdles, those particular competition. And they pulled me out of everything slowly. So because I wasn't able to jump, so they pulled me out the long jump. Then they needed to name the relay squad and I was running and all that was left for me to do was the hurdles in that particular occasion. And I got to the start line and I was very anxious. I got through the rounds OK, and then I blasted in the final. Won that title, set the fastest time or second fastest time ever as a junior in the event. And I say the rest is history, because that kind of gave me the confidence that I can perform under pressure, I can deliver when required, really.


Graham:

So talking of delivering under pressure, we're in the middle of intense training for dancing on ice. Are you aching in places that you didn't know you had?


Colin Jackson:

And bending in places I didn't know I had to bend. And it is the most challenging thing I've done by far, you know, trying to learn to hold a body posture. And as you know yourself, you know, you make one slight, slight turn to the left and your whole body goes in the direction and it's so, so precise. I have a huge respect for ice skaters from here on in, trust me.


Graham:

When you finished your athletics career, you learned to ski, so you've been skiing for a few years now, but skating obviously is very different.


Colin Jackson:

Yeah, but let's not hide the fact I retired at thirty six, started skiing at thirty seven. If I started ice skates at thirty seven, I’d be quite reasonable now, but you know, I'm fifty three now and the body doesn't move the same way it did.


Graham:

Tell me about it. I'm one year older but you've always, you've always maintained a high level of fitness since you never went into that stage of just being a sportsman, drinking too much and eating too many pies.


Colin Jackson:

But you know what, these numerous reasons that I think I was lucky enough that my lifestyle still revolved around sports and I have that level of training. I lost the love for competition of athletics. That's why I retired from the sport. I didn't want to compete anymore. That drive had gone, but I still enjoyed the camaraderie of training and other sporting activities that didn't necessarily have to have a real head to head decision making. That's why I think I've been really, really, really lucky. Once you you're involved in your lifestyle revolves around health and fitness, it does make life so much easier to continue.


Graham:

I feel the great thing that I have. I mean, I don't know how often you run one hundred and ten meter hurdles anymore, but I still ski every season. Yeah. You don't run hurdles. Do I have the advantage over you? I still have to get fit every winter for my sport to enjoy my sport and I still very much enjoy it, whereas athletics is something that you just can't do.


Colin Jackson:

Yeah. And certainly my particular event, you know, because I always say to people, you don't invite people around your house for a quick hurdle, do you? So you can go to the gym, you can lift weights, you can do better cardio. You could do some hill sprints, you can do the stretching or the flexibility stuff. And I thoroughly enjoy those other aspects of my lifestyle, I guess.


Graham:

And how important is fitness for your mind? What role does it play in de-stressing?


Colin Jackson:

Ultimately, the most important thing is your body. In your mind, there's no separation point. It all works together as one. So because I truly believe that thus far I know I feel always feel at my best and most mentally alert when I met my physical fitness. So I've got to really push all my boundaries, really challenge myself to something new terribly, and then along with that being physical, then I feel alive. I feel like I can literally achieve anything. And I guess this is one of the pluses of doing something like dancing on ice, for example, because it is very physical in its action. But also we're being very cerebral by learning a skill along the way. So it's nearly the perfect thing for us.


Graham:

Yeah, I mean, I noticed it in lockdown. I actually learned the flat water canoe in racing canoes. So very, very unstable, very wobbly boats, very fast. And it was the fact that I was learning something new, learning a new sport over those weeks of lockdown that really helped me get through because I was going out on my bike and I was running. But it was it was the kayaking that really kind of really caught me.


Colin Jackson:

And again, that's the thing that's the most exciting. When you can truly do that, you can get involved and it just takes you on a journey. I think for me at the moment, it's the only thing that I'm doing that takes me away from reality, because once I'm in the ice rink, there's nothing else I focus on.


Graham:

How important is vanity? Looking good in front of the camera. Obviously, we're going to be competing on dancing on ice, wearing some very probably some very skimpy outfits, figure hugging. How important is vanity for you?


Colin Jackson:

Massively. Remember who you're talking to? I don't have to remind you that I used to be well enough. That is hugely important to me as well, because, again, if you feel good and you feel comfortable with the way that you look at everything else around you fits in.


But and this is really the real important thing, never make those things become obsessive, because when they become obsessive, then they come destructive as well. So you can have that passion about it and that sense of like, OK, I want to achieve that. This is I want to be. But please, please, please never make it obsessive because that's why I fell down that path of bulimia. So I understand it now. We never really leaves you that that kind of feeling. But now I can control things much better. So, yes, vanity is very much part of it. But I know the best way and the safest way to look good and feel good about myself, which will ultimately, hopefully help my performance.


Graham:

Yeah, and that's that. You explained all that in the Panorama documentary. It was called Sport’s Hidden Crisis, and it was about eating disorders in sport and really, really interesting is still available, I think, on the BBC player. And it is fascinating that you say that you were competing and you're eating probably a quarter of what you needed in calories.


Colin Jackson:

You know, I was shocked. I went to see a nutritionist during the show and she went through my diet, as should have been with the training schedules that I had. And she said to me, how much of this will you actually eat? And I literally would have just taken, like, tiny bits of what would have been a healthy, balanced diet for what was necessary for me. And then she started explaining how I would have felt she was spot on with all the symptoms of me being undernourished. One of the things you always feel like what you expect is that when you're undernourished, that you be weak in and you sleep all the time because of it, because you're exhausted. But yeah, I was exhausted, but I could never sleep. And it was explained to me the reason why is because your body is always looking for food, so it always stays alert so you never fully rest. All this I never knew, but I was suffering from insomnia and that was just because my body was starving all the time.


And these little things I really wish I knew when I was running, I said to her, I really wish I knew you as my nutritionist when I was competing because it would have made a massive difference to my performance level. I mean, I did all right. But I mean, it would have made a massive, massive difference.


Graham:

You picked up on in the program about the cyclists. I mean, if you look at what Bradley Wiggins did ahead of winning the Tour de France, some sports, you do have to push those boundaries and it can come very, very close to being dangerous.


Colin Jackson:

And I think that's one of the most important things that we can really recognize and remember. Most young people in sport, we have no life experience. So we've come out of school and we've done our sport. We kept in our sport within this cocoon of trying to be successful. And, you know, you look at somebody and think, well, they look painfully thin. That's the way I have to look. And you own what happens then. You only apply how you think is the right way to get there. And you don't really seek the knowledge because you don't think the knowledge is there because it's never explained to you.


I think one thing good about the Panorama is that people understood. Now you must ask questions. You must challenge the governing bodies. You must seek help if you find yourself on these boundaries, really. And if you don't seek help in the places you think, you should then complain because nowadays complaints will be listened to and dealt with quite severely. So that's a good thing.


Graham:

There's plenty in the press right now and on television and radio about diversity in sport. Where do you think we are in 2020 with this?


Colin Jackson:

We're just in a different place is the way I'd say. I wouldn't say we've moved that much further ahead, because if we still at the moment we're forcing the chief of the FA to step down, then what we've done is we have moved forward at all from the 70s. Always one of the big things. We always remind people that it's all about education and you've really got to take time to reeducate yourself. Everybody's got to really just take a check of themselves and understand that people are not being oversensitive. You've just got to be sensitive to what you say. I think what he described in the time he called the black place colored people, like that's just not acceptable language. And people were going, why? Because that is something from the past where it's just as derogatory to black people as the N-word. So you've got to understand that. Remember, perception is reality. And if you perceive that language is being racist, then you feel that is racist. There is so many great words to describe people in a decent way. The English language use the words that, you know, that won't offend and just stick to it. And that said, this is always the key for me.


Graham:

There's no two sides to this argument. There is it's an absolute racial discrimination is bad. And that is an absolute and, you know, to hear people saying, oh, well, you know, let's look at both sides. There isn't another side, in my opinion.


Colin Jackson:

I think sometimes people got to remember as well that when you're black in the Western world, you're a minority. And when you're a minority, you've got to think about we're not being oversensitive. We're just trying to be equal. And so whatever, we try and work harder. We don't really want to feel that we need to work any harder than anybody else to get the success. If we go to the police because somebody has done something against us, we want to feel like we've got equal treatment in authority. You know, if you're young black kid nowadays, when you're watching all the stuff going on TV, if somebody robbed you, would you go to the police and ask them for help? It'd be really difficult for you to be honestly go to authority. The people who are supposed to protect you in society you don't trust. That is not a nice feeling to be dealing with. So it's those everyday issues where people are just slightly be aware and take ownership of stuff, you know? I mean, there's no hiding. There was slavery. There was no hiding. There was racism back in the 80s, in the 19th century. And that said, just admit to that and say we know better now. It's those little things where people then get comfortable with talking openly, how you feel and then how we can address things.


Graham:

What about your own personal experiences? Have you ever had that discrimination against you in sport?


Colin Jackson:

In every walk of life. I mean, the first thing people do see you black, white. So that's the first thing they see. I think so. Certainly growing up, things that that people forget is kind of racism is like when you come to immigration, we're all representing Great Britain as juniors. And then you go into the customs, they're stopping you, letting your mates go through and they're asking you questions. That's racism that we are dealing with every single day. And you can't say to me that is just because we just want to stop, you know, is white and black. It happens all the time. That's clear. It's the argument going into shops and the security guards are following you around the shops because they think that you're going to steal something.


You're in a group with your mates playing your music on the street when you're young, 15, 16, and people come, they see you as a gang and they cross the road thinking that they get you're going to mug them only because you're black. People will think themselves, oh, did that on a regular basis. That's what we grew up with. Never mind the name calling. So those are the everyday things that we have to deal with being black in a Western world. Same thing in the world of sport, I guess. I mean, that's one of the reasons I didn't play cricket. I went to athletics because athletics seemed to be a sport that accepted black people to be successful. When I was young, cricket seemed to be a sport where lets you play for the West Indies. You weren't getting any team. So it was very much the reason I went to athletics. Yeah, when you've got all the coaches and all the selectors and everybody in the hierarchy is white, it doesn't look like there's a place for you. They just stop you. If they don't if your face doesn't fit, you're not going. Whilst in the world of athletics, of course, if I cross the line first at our trials, there's a lot of room for me to argue. So it's there was a it was a sport which I felt instantly accepted it.


Graham:

In 2017 you came out as gay. How hard was that? I mean, I've known for years, for me, it's it hasn't made a blind bit of difference.


Colin Jackson:

I remember, I was talking to a friend, asked me to do an interview about the whole story, about being a sportsman. And then and then I did the interview, like in the March. And then I was away in Switzerland. And one of my mates rang me and said, oh, I know what you be doing next June. I was like, I see what you're talking about because I had no clue why he was talking. And I said, we talk about, you know, you've come out of it again, sorry. And he said, Oh, I heard about the interview. Did I say I did that age ago? And he was like, cancer is coming on newspapers now. And I was like, oh, hang on a minute. I thought I came up like in two thousand, six or two. And he was like, no, I don't think you did. I was like, really? I said, Oh, OK. Well, to me then I've come out twice.


So even though everybody close quarters and all that knew the story going on forever and ever. Amen. It was quite funny for me. But also I got lots of messages from youngsters. Now, this is where you don't realize when you do something like that, how you can really influence other people's lives in such a positive manner. And that was really important in the end to do. And I felt like, oh, I didn't realize that it was going to make so much of a difference, but it did make a huge positive difference for lots of youngsters that were in the sport and doing stuff. And I thought, well, that's good, because if you can do something that's you without any effort and it makes a huge positive impact for people, then it's a win win situation.


Graham:

So moving on to dancing on ice, the near victory that you had in Strictly matches that motivated you to win this one because Mylène classes tipped you to win.


Colin Jackson:

I heard about Mylène say not. Did she not see me on the skate yet? But as you know, you know yourself, right? This is really different because most people say we could social skate, which is very different, you know, to what these are going to say, these lot like these are expecting from us to do, you know, straight like push, make sure you extend through the toes, make sure the line is like this. Make sure you do know that. I'm like, whoa, whoa, wait, wait, wait, wait.


Graham:

You've got to have perfect posture, so you have to elongate your neck. So you have to look up, you have to pull your shoulder blades back, arch your back so that your whole top line is kind of elongated and lifted. So you're talking about being lifted with great posture, the upper body. Meanwhile, with your legs, you have to then flex your ankle as far forward as you can, bend your knee, but don't break at the hip. It's I call it the bad squat, because if you're ever in the gym, you're doing squats. That's the last thing you do is push a need for posture your toe, and that's exactly what you do on skates.


Colin Jackson:

And so when you're trying to perfect this technique with unlimited time to do it, you know, and we all have unlimited ice time. But I don't think my body can spend any more than two hours on the ice before break into pieces, because literally you're in such an odd position today. Not long come off the ice now when we were doing some backward cross over and backward crossovers. And it's just like, OK, this is really getting to me now because I know how it feels and I do it right one day. And then you get on the ice the next day and you just can't do or crossovers. You like this idea. Now, I've only gone to bed. What I wanna do is do things well. If I let myself down, I mean, I funny enough, I drive it to bear down on the ice today. We were just a backward crossover and the two of us hit the deck today. So sorry we got you on CCTV. So you see some of the social media, but we both hit the deck today. And of course, we just burst out laughing because she goes flying in one direction. I go fly. But, you know, that's all part of it, isn't it? You're trying to hone their skill. You're trying to get the perfection in every single step that you do. And of course, you're going to fail on something.


Graham:

If you're not falling, you're not trying. That's exactly right. Just make sure that you've got some decent protection on elbows.


Colin Jackson:

I did a three ten and fell just doing a three ten from nowhere. My feet just went from under me. When I hit the deck, I felt like I had whiplash. It felt like it went right through the hole of my neck. It just shocked me. So, yeah, you've got to get used to that as well. Yeah. So it’s fun. We've talked ourselves of the show.


Graham:

We've talked about training the body, training the mind, what do you specifically do to help kind of train the mind?


Colin Jackson:

I do yoga anyway in that sense. So that kind of helps. And there's one particular position in yoga, which is one of the most difficult ones to do. And people always laugh when you say this, until you speak to yoga, you let them tell you, as is the court's position when you just lying on the floor, don't move. And when you lie on the floor and you realize how difficult it is for you to not move because you always want to fidget, something doesn't feel in the right place.


And it's not about that. It's just lie down and embrace the fact that every part of your body is connected to the floor and then stop your mind from drifting. Because what happens then when you get the body completely relaxed, your mind starts going, I haven't paid the electricity bill yet. If I put the car on a meter somewhere and oh yeah, I can go to Christmas shopping on Thursday, you know, you've got to clear the mind. So again, learning how to clear the mind and have a real sense of cleansing and just be in the moment. And when you go into something like the coach position, just think about every single part of your body that's hitting the floor and just relax in that position. And it's really hard to switch the mind off. But if you can learn to do that little bit, just detox the mind by switching it off and just be mindful for the moment. And you only need to do that for ten minutes. If you can't find 10 minutes a day for yourself, then you can never give the best of you to everybody. So invest in yourself for just ten minutes a day and you'll make a difference.


And we touched on it a little bit earlier with learning new skills as well. So if you were to take up a new skill, so your brain is thinking so much about learning this new sport that you can't think about anything else. It's impossible because you're thinking so hard on what it is you're learning to do.


And I find that that is very useful if that's 100 percent a huge, great tip as well. And we say we did touch on that. And again, that's not being mindful for that particular moment, is that you're in that moment. I laugh when I say this, but one of the most therapeutic things for me is like cleaning when I'm cleaning the house, you know, I just distract myself from everything else and I'm just cleaning. Some people find cooking can be quite relaxing myself because they're being creative. And again, being creative stimulates the mind in a positive way. So it's always finding what works for you. There's something for everybody. You've just got to find it.


Graham:

Talking of cooking, they say you are what you eat and we've touched on some of this already. But how important is the balanced diet and what are the things that that you have that maybe stray from the path?


Colin Jackson:

Well, you know, already I don't have to tell you about my sugar intake. It is always a little bit over the top. I have cravings like everyone else, but I have the ability to be able to suppress them.


So a balanced diet is really important. I mix stuff as well. So, for example, today, now I'm just out of vegetables. And like yesterday I was of fish and the day before that I was just all breath chicken breast. I don't miss any food groups, but I will just change the proteins every so often and that seems to work. So a balanced diet is the most important thing because you don't want to really leave yourself short of anything, because if you start again, having those cravings, member can start to steer you into that obsession. And then you want that, you want it too much. And that's the only thing that's in your mind. Just keep yourself fueled, keep yourself energized, keep yourself having aspiration and keep being inspired and use every single moment of this life that we have and make it a good.


Graham:

So it's time to shift gears now and move on to the decathlon section of the podcast, it's one of the toughest athletic contests out there made famous by Daley Thompson, but hopefully these questions won't be quite as tough. So this is the decathlon brought to you by decathlon. So let's go for it.


Question one, what's your exercise of choice?


Colin Jackson:

Oh, that's a good one. There's probably press-ups, you know.


Graham:

Do you work out alone or with friends?


Colin Jackson:

With friends


Graham:

What time of day do you prefer to exercise?


Colin Jackson:

Morning.


Graham:

What's the best thing about exercise?


Colin Jackson:

You feel amazing after had you refuel after your workout protein shakes.


Graham:

How do you relax?


Colin Jackson:

Sit down and watch Netflix.


Graham:

What's the hardest thing about keeping fit?


Colin Jackson:

Oh God. The nutrition side of it. Ready to make sure I've got enough nutrition for the exercise.


Graham:

And how do you maintain motivation,


Colin Jackson:

Desire to look at vanity and top fitness secret. Yeah. Get to bed before 11 o'clock.


Graham:

And final question. It's Saturday night. How did you kick back and relax?


Colin Jackson:

OK, I have a hot bath. First of all, put a onesie on, come downstairs and have potentially here a small bar of chocolate and a cup of Horlicks and just watch TV.


Graham:

A huge thanks to my guest is Colin Jackson. But before we go out of all the things we've talked about, is there one key health and fitness message that you'd like to finally imparts the listeners?


Colin Jackson:

Yeah, I would say look after nutrition because your six pack is made in the kitchen and not in the gym.


Graham:

Brilliant. Thank you for joining me. And thank you all for listening. Thank you, Colin.


Colin Jackson:

My pleasure.


Graham:

I will see you on the ice soon.


Colin Jackson:

Very soon.


Graham:

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