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Leon Reid: Irish sprinter training with Van Niekerk in build-up to Olympics

Athletics   |   May 6, 2020

Leon Reid in action in the European Championship 200m final in 2018
Leon Reid is aiming to wear the Irish vest again at next year’s Olympics in Tokyo

Commonwealth Games 200m medallist Leon Reid’s build-up to next year’s Olympics is including training stints with South African 400m star Wayde van Niekerk.

Irish sprinter Reid spent the early part of this year training in South Africa with the Olympic 400m champion.

Reid plans another training period with the 400m world record holder next winter as part of his Tokyo build-up.

“Wayde really looked after me and I was also working with his coach Tannie Ans,” Reid, 25, told BBC Sport NI.

The Bath-based athlete’s link-up with modern-day great Van Niekerk came largely from social media contact and the Northern Ireland man was amazed at the extent at which the South African welcomed him into his world in January and February.

“Obviously you are going there to train and we were getting up at 6 am every day but you still wouldn’t necessarily expect him to invite you into his circle,” added Reid.

“That’s normally the line that is drawn but he introduced me to all of his family and I was going to his house every other day.”

Wayde van Niekerk celebrates after winning the 400m gold at the 2017 World Championships in London
Wayde van Niekerk is Olympic 400m champion and also holds the world record

‘Wayde told me not to over-think things’

Van Niekerk, 27, broke Michael Johnson’s long-standing world 400m record when clinching the Rio Olympic title in 43.03 seconds but shortly after winning the world title in London a year later, he suffered a serious knee injury.

He was ruled out of the 2018 Commonwealth Games and last year’s World Championships but returned to competition in South Africa in late February when running encouraging 100m and 200m times of 10.10 and 20.31 seconds.

As for the main pointer he picked up from working at such close quarters with van Niekerk, Reid replied: “Just not to over-think things. Work hard, yes. Get the work done but have fun while you doing it.”

Reid’s stint in South Africa came after several weeks of training in India where his coach James Hillier is now based in his role as head coach of the athletics high-performance center in Bhubaneswar.

With power cuts common in addition to a dearth of hot water, not to mention wifi, Reid’s Indian stint was more challenging than what followed in South Africa.

“Apart from training. I was doing nothing really in India. Just chilling. I would train in the morning, have lunch and stuff, and then train again in the evening.”


Reid returned home from South Africa in February intending to head back within a week but the developing coronavirus crisis quickly induced a rethink.

“My mum said to me: ‘Would you rather be stuck here or in South Africa with this coronavirus going on?'”

Leon was adopted as an 11-year-old by a wonderful woman in Wexford native Claire Russell but has maintained close links with the Belfast-based family of his birth mother Anne-Marie who passed away in 2016.

Leon Reid (right) alongside Canada's Aaron Brown and Trinidad & Tobago's gold medallist Hereem Richards on the Commonwealth Games podium
Reid (right) crossed the line fourth in the 2018 Commonwealth Games 200m final but was promoted to bronze after initial winner England’s Zharnel Hughes was disqualified

Maintaining contact with all family wings

Maintaining contact with all the various wings of his family during the lockdown is not easy but it’s something Reid is determined to do.

“Trying to switch your grandparents on to the technology and stuff like that so that you can keep in touch is difficult and with the two families to manage as well but it has to be done.”

With a home gym installed and Reid also able to use a decommissioned track in nearby Bristol, the track athlete says training is largely business as usual although his next race may not be until next February in South Africa.

“This summer is just going to be a matter of keeping things ticking over training-wise. Nothing fancy. Just keep it at 80%.”

Away from training, Leon is spending a lot of time on the development of his own clothing brand aimed especially at athletes.

“I feel like there’s a gap in the market. The production will be done in China and hopefully, it will be the same company that does all the Nike stuff.”

‘I struggled to reset in 2019’

After a near two-year-long saga in 2017 and 2018 over whether the former British athlete was going to be allowed to transfer international allegiance to Ireland, his 2019 campaign was an altogether more muted affair with the sprinter missing out on qualification for the World Championships in Doha.

Reid admits he did endure something of a mental letdown after his superb 2018 campaign which included his surprise Commonwealth Games bronze medal for Northern Ireland and qualification for the European Championship final.

“You have a really good year as I had in 2018 and then it’s a case of mentally re-setting. I just struggled with that.

“I had a direct focus in 2018. I had to prove people wrong. I was really fighting for something.”

But Reid’s link-up with Van Niekerk will hopefully prove the change of scenery that he needed to progress on to the next stage of his career, which he intends to be becoming an Olympian.

The Olympic 200m qualification mark is 20.24 – only 0.03 quicker than his lifetime best set in 2018 – although his fastest time last year was a relatively pedestrian 20.57.

“I will be going back to South Africa in the winter when I get the chance. I’ll be ready to race in February,” says Reid, who believes the one-year delay to the Tokyo Games could help his Olympic chances.

“You do get stronger as a sprinter as you go more into your 20s where probably for the likes of older guys such as Justin Gatlin, the extra year is probably not going to be a help.”

Written by: Don Ogomo