James Thie is the man who has put Ieuan Thomas, Josh Griffiths and Tom Marshall on the fast track to athletics success. Dai Sport’s Owen Morgan has been to meet him.
Welsh endurance running coach James Thie has spoken of the pride he feels in the success of athletes in his training group this season, culminating in the selection of 3000m steeplechaser Ieuan Thomas for the World Championships in London.
Thomas’ achievement may currently be the headline news of the Team Thie success story, but there have been plenty of others within the 40-strong group who have shone on the track this season.
Their individual achievements inspire a huge sense of pride in Thie, which he says provides him with even more pleasure than his own considerable successes on the track during a glittering career.
A Great Britain international, he finished fourth in the 1500m at the 2004 World Indoor Championships and was a European Indoor Championship 1500m finalist in 2005 and 2007. He also represented Wales at the Delhi and Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
Apart from his current coaching exploits, he still competes and in 2014 was World Masters Indoor Champion at 800m, 1500m and 3000m. He also still holds the Welsh senior records at the mile and 2000m.
Speaking before overseeing one of Thomas’ final track sessions in Cardiff before the steeplechaser headed for London, Thie said: “I’m always just so proud of the athletes’ success and I feel really humble that they ask me to look after them in the first place and trust my judgement on things.
“It’s a two way process where we have a structure for things, have a chat about things and then they put the hard work in. Hopefully it pays off.”
It certainly has paid off for Team Thie members since the then budding coach took on his first athlete – Scottish 1500 and 3,000m runner David Bishop back in 2007.
Since then, the international training group based in Cardiff has boasted numerous Great Britain internationals, home international representatives, multiple UK championship medallists and age group champions.
Some have also crossed the Atlantic to American Universities where they have become All-Americans in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
This season has been particularly successful for the group. Apart from Ieuan Thomas being selected for the World Championships, his friend, training partner and work colleague Tom Marshall, has enjoyed a memorable campaign.
The 1500m runner clocked a personal best of 3:37.45 during the Anniversary Games Diamond League meeting at the London Stadium in July, despite being ill in the run up to the event.
During the same month, there were also personal bests for the Cardiff AAC runner in the 800m (1.48.68) and the mile, where he lopped over a second off his PB to clock 3:58.31, taking him to sixth in the all-time Welsh rankings, albeit still behind coach Thie!
Another Team Thie athlete to enjoy success at the London Stadium already this season is Steve Morris, who ran an incredibly brave race in the T20 1500 metres at the World Para Athletics Championships. Morris hit the front from the starter’s pistol and stayed there until he was overhauled late on by American World record holder and red hot favourite Michael Brannigan, eventually finishing a hugely creditable fourth.
Morris also produced excellent performances in T20 800m final where he finished fifth and in the T20 5000m when he once again placed fifth, but set a new PB and British record time of 15:14.04.
Thomas isn’t the only steeplechaser in Team Thie to shine this season. Already a Welsh champion at 800m, Amman Valley Harrier Jade Williams decided to switch to the steeplechase with remarkable results. On her debut in the 2000m steeplechase in Solihull she set a new Welsh best standard of 6:38.76.
Then, in her first 3000m steeplechase at the Loughborough International, she broke the 12-year-old Welsh record with a time of 10:25.03.
Fellow Thie-coached steeplechaser Charlotte Taylor-Green, who is an England international, finished second over the 3000m distance at the British Championships in Birmingham. Also successful at those championships was Cardiff AAC athlete Charlotte Arter who gained bronze in the 5000m.
And as recently as last weekend, Steve Mitchell won a silver medal in the 5000m at the English Outdoor Track Championships.
Thie says that level of success, and Thomas’ selection for the World Championships, provides inspiration at all levels within the group. “That’s hopefully what’s been a big driver for a lot of them.
“They say that success breeds success. I’d love to think we’ve got a nice inclusive group of all standards, of all abilities, and it kind of works.
“There’s a real nice kind of camaraderie in training. It’s all relative. In the middle of winter when you’re slogging through mile reps, whether you’re a sub-four-minute-miler or a sub-seven-minute-miler, it’s hard work. So it’s great that people identify with all that when people do get success.”
That team ethic will be in evidence this Sunday when a number of the group travel up to London for the World Championships to support Thomas in the steeplechase, and former Team Thie member Josh Griffiths, who became self coached when he plumped to concentrate on the marathon distance.
Thie, whose “day job” is Performance Director for Athletics and Head of Endurance at Cardiff Metropolitan University says: “We’ve got 12 of us going up to see Ieuan run, which is probably a third of the people who want to go, but some people are away or working. ”
“We’re also going to watch a former member of our training group, Josh Griffiths, who’s in the marathon. So it’s special to be able to go and do that and a really positive thing to have within the group. ”
Thie takes particular pride and satisfaction in Thomas’ achievement, given the injuries the athlete has overcome in recent years, along with the fear he had initially missed out on selection after narrowly failing to gain the qualifying time. His selection was only confirmed last week following an IAAF invitation.
The coach, who also has a host of hugely promising youngsters under his wing at Cardiff Metropolitan University, says Thomas’s success is the perfect example of the rewards that can be achieved by hard work and perseverance, allied to natural talent.
“I was absolutely delighted, I mean it’s something we thought might have just escaped us, so to get that last minute call-up was nothing more than he deserves, not just for this season but for multiple seasons before where he’s had setbacks and things haven’t gone to plan.
“But he’s always come back strong and just works his socks off, so we’re delighted for him.
“Ieuan was a super-talented youngster, he’s come through the age-groups and he’s won medals at those age-groups . Not all those athletes go on to become seniors and it’s not an overnight success. It’s something that you’ve got to keep working at.
“Given his event he’s had so many setbacks and injuries, it’s ended up costing him four seasons and he got so close to qualifying for the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Again, for some athletes they don’t recover from things like that but he seems to just come back stronger.
“I think that’s the real reward as a coach when you see the perseverance and hard work of the athletes actually come off and there are no bigger stages than World Championships in your own country in front of thousands of people trackside and in front of millions of people on TV.
“It’s nice when plans come together but one thing I have learned is that there is no simple A to B or one way of getting the success. There are multiple ways and you’ve got to keep tough and keep positive. I do believe that good things come to good people and Ieuan’s a good person.”
And given the success of his group, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Thie is a very good coach.
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