Colin Jackson has vowed to be hands on in his role as chancellor at Wrexham Glyndwr University, to be present and approachable. Jamie Bowman sat down with the world champion athlete to find out more...

IT may not be the same as lining up for an Olympic final, but moments before he is due to be officially installed as Wrexham Glyndwr University’s new chancellor, sporting legend Colin Jackson is showing a few nerves.

“Emotions are in your gut and you can’t really control that!” laughs the former 110m hurdles world record holder. “I’m really excited but you always have that sense of nervousness. You have to be able to control it and that’s a skill you learn as you mature and get put in those situations more often - when you learn how to handle it that’s when you pull out the best of you.”

During a career in which he represented Great Britain and Wales, Jackson was certainly able to do just that: he won an Olympic silver medal, became world champion twice, world indoor champion once, went undefeated at the European Championships for 12 years and was a two-time Commonwealth champion.

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His world record of 12.91 seconds for the 110m hurdles stood for more than a decade and he remains the 60 metre hurdles world record holder.

The Cardiff-born athlete, 52 today, remains a well-known face on British television as a commentator and presenter, but despite his many commitments he is determined to give his all in his new role as chancellor.

“It’s not just a ceremonial position and I’m not just here for the nice bits,” he says. “I want to contribute in so many other ways and want to spend time here trying to motivate and inspire.

“I’m definitely not going to be a stranger and I want the students to know I’m their chancellor and they can stop me and ask for all sorts of advice.

“I’m worldly, well-travelled and experienced in so many ways that I don’t think there’s many questions the students could ask me that I couldn’t answer - if I can’t I can certainly find an answer for them and for me it’s an important thing that I’m a figurehead in that sense.”

After his own athletics career, Jackson coached his close friend, swimmer Mark Foster, as well as two of Great Britain’s top Olympic prospects, 400m runner Timothy Benjamin and 400m hurdler Rhys Williams. He was also one of the members of the successful London 2012 Olympic bid team.

“I’ve spent a lot of time mentoring and working in lots of different sports,” he says. “Using what I’ve gained in experience and using it positively is important to me.

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“If you’re a good mentor you spend a lot of time understanding - once you understand who you’re mentoring and they get it, it’s job done.”

Jackson’s parents were first generation Jamaican immigrants and the young athlete grew up on a council estate just outside Cardiff.

Unsurprisingly, social inclusion has become one of his main interests and in 2012 he launched the Red Shoes Academy, through which Olympic and Paralympic sports personalities deliver presentations to school assemblies to motivate youngsters to find the ‘Champion Within’.

“Education is a leveller,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter how wealthy or poor you are, if you get a great education it is something that gives you a great start in life.

“I always say the most important people in the world are teachers and of course they should be paid more - think about the responsibility they have.

“They are the ones who guide our youngsters towards being our future leaders. That knowledge you gain at school is something that will just stay with you forever.”

Jackson’s close relationship with his coach Malcolm Arnold, who he joined at 17 and remained with until retirement in 2003, continues to act as the benchmark for his own mentoring work along with some teachers who he still remembers.

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“I had a maths teacher who was incredible,” he recalls. “He was a great orator and had this skill of being able to connect with young people. He made maths interesting and anyone who can do that deserves lots of gold medals.

“I had a brilliant biology teacher too who had a really strong reputation for being a disciplinarian but she had this sense of duty of care. She could pull the best out of her students and recognise that not everyone was an A* student.”

This September sees the Athletics World Championships take place in Doha, Qatar, and Jackson is confident Team GB could have another successful competition, after picking up two gold medals in London two years ago.

“We’ve all seen what the likes of Mo Farah, Jess Ennis and Greg Rutherford have done in recent years but someone like Dina Asher-Smith is a fantastic sprinter with huge potential and a beautiful bubbly character.

“Can she take it to the next level? Absolutely - she has the talent, the ability and she has already won titles. She knows her mental side won’t let her down.”

The one gap on Jackson’s CV is an Olympic gold medal and it was in Barcelona in 1992 that it was supposed to happen. A minor rib injury intervened and he finished seventh. In 1996 he came fourth and in 2000, fifth.

“You never put it away,” he laughs. “It remains one of the strongest reasons behind where I am today. I watched that race yesterday because I was just talking about it and it was a good thing for me to remember and talk about it.

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“When you are a successful athlete you can spend a lot of time talking about how great you are and I could brag every day of the week about all my other gold medals. The strength of someone’s personality comes when you can reflect on your failings and the reasons for them.

“There is nothing wrong with reflection and thinking ‘I did this wrong and that wrong and that was the consequence’ and I was more than happy to talk about it.

“Of course it would be nice to have an Olympic gold but I did have 25 other major titles, which is more than most!”

Jackson stills hold the 60m hurdles world record but 25 years after he set it he’s hoping it won’t last much longer and is looking forward to being there when it’s broken.

“I’m excited about seeing the record go,” he says. “I don’t like the fact that people say the fastest person who’s ever run that distance is that old man sitting up there. I want to be lucky enough to commentate on somebody who breaks that world record - it would be just fantastic.”

After years of speculation about his sexuality, Jackson confirmed he was gay in summer 2017 and in a week when homophobia in sport has been a hot topic following the well-reported incident between England cricket captain Joe Root and West Indian fast bowler Shannon Gabriel, the hurdler said he was impressed by the batsman’s words when challenging his opponent.

“No matter what field you are in, anyone who stands out like that is someone we should be celebrating,” he adds. “That human being should be celebrated and for me it was really strong and bold thing to do, especially as he was the captain of the team. It really puts the message out there for everyone else on the team and in that dressing room.”

As he prepares to step out onto the stage at the William Aston Hall, Jackson signs off with another pledge that the university’s new chancellor is certainly going to be hands on.

“It really is important to me,” he adds. “When I accepted the role I said it was one of the most important things I would do in my career. I will be here, so watch out and watch this space.”