An interview with Olympic Silver medallist Mitchell Watt

Australian long jumper Mitchell Watt won silver in London behind Britain’s Greg Rutherford, here he talks about his meteoric rise to fame.

First of all, huge congratulations on your silver medal! How do you feel about your performance at the Games?

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I am extremely happy! To come away with a silver medal is a pretty big achievement. Obviously there is always a tiny part of you that wants the gold, but I am still young and this was my first Olympics and I learnt a lot.

How do you feel about the next Olympics?

Physically the next Olympics should be my best. Late 20’s is when most long jumpers (and actually most track athletes) are at their peak, so hopefully I can learn from this, take a bit of down time and then look forward to doing it all again!

How was the ‘London experience’  for you?

The London experience has been amazing. As soon as I got off the plane at Heathrow I felt the buzz and this was three weeks before competition. There were Olympics logos everywhere, countdown clocks and the Olympic rings on display, it was so exciting and it truely delivered.

Did you know you had what it takes to be an elite level long jumper or was it a surprise?

It was a bit of a surprise! When I was younger, around 12 or 13, I used to enter races and things and win a lot of competitions, but it was nothing serious back then.

I was playing rugby also in secondary school but after university lots of my old pals were training in track and field and they persuaded me to go and train with them. Initially it was only to hang out with my friends and get fit, but as a few weeks passed I noticed that I was getting fitter and faster extremely quickly and I was really enjoying it!

Then my coach started me doing some jumping and long jump drills and we realised that I had a fair bit of talent. I was almost jumping as long as the guys that he had been training for years and I had only been there a couple of months.

Five or six months later we sat down and talked about it seriously and decided to give it a real shot. That was only four years ago…

So jumping was an innate talent that you didn’t even realise you had?

Yes, exactly. My coach (Gary Bourne) said to me that even though I hadn’t done the training and wasn’t as fit as the others, that talent never leaves you and that was one thing that really stuck with me.

This is one of the things that I say to young athletes, it doesn’t matter what sport you play, if you have to take time out or are injured, that talent is still within you.

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Who are/were your sporting heroes and why?

I am a massive football fan and Wayne Rooney is one of my favourite sportsmen. Also a couple of the rugby players that I used to play with – one of them is captain of the Wallabies now.

I do really admire a lot of athletes in track and field but wouldn’t say they are my heroes.

How important has your coach Gary Bourne been?

(Grinning hugely) Gary Bourne? I probably owe about 95% of my success to him! Being so foreign to the sport I had no real idea about training programmes or technique or recovery and he has guided me through all of those aspects.

That would be one of my pieces of advice – your coach is probably the most important person. You spend three orfour hours a day together so you need to have a lot of trust in him or her.

Even here at the Olympics I was about sixth or seventh half way through the competition (which is quite unusual for me – I usually get a good jump out early) and he gave me a few words of advice and reassured me – that helped me to commit on my second to last jump which moved me into silver medal position.

What advice do you have for any aspiring long jumpers reading this?

The first thing that I recommend, which applies to every sport is to do core stability, ab and yoga type work. This is probably as important for my mum as it is for me as it keeps everything in alignment and protects your back.

I think core stability often goes unnoticed, but I think it’s the most important thing. That has been one of the things I have been working on this last year and it has made a huge difference. The main thing I work on is my speed, so I work on getting faster.

The technical stuff comes later, but there is no point working on this if you don’t have the speed first. When I first started out I didn’t jump for maybe 3-4 months but worked on running and getting stronger and faster.

That’s how we work with our training – after the season I probably won’t jump until Jan next year.

What does a typical week’s training involve?

During competition I would do three sprint sessions a week, two weights sessions and one jump session. And that’s pretty much the same throughout the year.

We run a lot more pre-season and the weights are heavier and then as you come into competition it’s shorter and sharper.

Does your training change in the winter?

It’s hard because I am from Australia so winter and summer is confused in terms of the main European track season, but it’s just the volume that changes really.

My preseason training is a lot more running and a lot more weights based, but nothing at 100%. I might do 10 x 100 at 90% then close to competition I would do 5 at 100%. Early season is higher volume lower intensity and then the opposite for competition.

Who’s going to be the first guy to jump 9m? Have you come close?

Well the guy that holds the world record, Mike Powell, at 8.95 was 26 when he first jumped over 8.50 & I jumped over 8.50 when I was 23, so I am ahead of where he was at his age!

It’s a pretty amazing record that he has (Mike Powell holds the world record with 8.95m).

What do you do away from the track to relax?

I spend a lot of time at my house. I love kicking back with my buddies watching sports – we love watching soccer in particular.

I try to rest and recover and don’t really go out too much as I don’t want to spend my one rest day of the week feeling hung over! We may sometimes go for a cycle to keep the legs moving too.

If you weren’t an elite athlete what do you think you would be doing?

I am studying a law degree at the moment which has taken a bit of a back seat lately, but no matter what I will always go back and finish. I am so close to finishing but just can’t find the time right now!

So how do you manage to combine competing with studying?

Well, I was really lucky because when I started I wasn’t at an elite level so I wasn’t travelling and this meant I was able to get a big chunk of my degree done before I reached an elite level.

Now I just try to squeeze in a subject or semester every so often, but now that I have an Olympic medal it’s not quite so high on my immediate list of priorities!

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