“I get to indulge in my rockstar fantasies”, laughs Iwan Thomas over a Zoom call.

The former sprinter is talking to me from his hotel room in Eugene in Oregon, where he’s working as the trackside MC for this year’s World Athletics Championships.

Unmistakable from his days as an elite sprinter - his hair is still bleached, although the ginger hue to his stubble is hanging on against the natural grey that's coming through these days.

“I have to let it go that I’m no longer twenty-five and able to run fast around the track, but I’ve got the next best job”, he says.

“I’m standing by the athletes and interviewing them and living through them. It’s nice to see these athletes go through their journey, and it’s nice to be a part of it”.

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It could seem like lip service or just saying what’s expected, but Iwan’s enthusiasm is sincere. Barely 24 hours after Thomas and I spoke, Jake Wightman took an unexpected gold in the 1500m. Wightman seemed dazed in the moment, the surrealism of the moment for him likely compounded as the first person he saw was Iwan Thomas, who immediately swallowed him in a bearhug.

After receiving his medal, Wightman was interviewed in the stadium by Thomas, whose look of pride was only matched by the person stood to the other side of the gold medallist - Wightman’s own mother.

Former sprinter Iwan Thomas discusses his new life with The National. (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency).Iwan Thomas interviewing 1500m world champion Jake Wightman after his gold medal success in Eugene. (Image: Instagram).

His own British record in the 400m stood for 25 years and was only recently broken by Matt Hudson-Smith. Is he precious about it?

“I didn’t think my record would last that long. It was nice to have it, but that was my old life. It’s a long way behind me, and it’s nice to see people coming through like Joe Brier for Wales. It’d be lovely to see him realise his potential and take a stepping stone towards greatness”.

Despite being a world champion running for Great Britain, Thomas is proudest of his achievements running for Wales.

Born and raised in England, he's never lived in Wales, but Iwan Gwyn Thomas can’t escape his Welshness. His Welsh-speaking mother met his English father at Aberystwyth University, and although the family followed his father’s work for the RAF there wasn’t much of a decision for the runner when it came to who he would represent.

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“When I was coming through as an athlete I was very conscious of my Welsh heritage, my Welsh roots. I had the option to compete for England or Wales but it was always going to be Wales, much to the disappointment of my dad.

“Competing for Wales is the best decision I’ve ever made”.

And his best moment in the red vest?

“People ask me about when I look back at my career, what am I proud of, and I’m proud of all of my medals, but I can honestly say the Commonwealth Games, Kuala Lumpur Gold.

“The Commonwealth Games mean so much to me, and I don’t mean to sound blasé, but as an athlete every year there’s something - the Europeans, Worlds, Olympics - it’s always Great Britain. It’s only every four years for the Commonwealth Games and that made it very special to run for your home nation.”

It should come as no surprise that Iwan Thomas holds the Commonwealth Games close to his heart, he first competed there in 1994 while still a university student, reaching the semi-finals of the 400m and setting a Welsh record time.

Former sprinter Iwan Thomas discusses his new life with The National. (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency).Iwan Thomas after winning gold in the 400m at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency).

To go from nearly making the final in 1994 to winning gold in a Commonwealth record time four years later, Thomas credits National Lottery funding for making that transition.

“Without that funding a lot of athletes would have to have a part time job, they wouldn’t be able to get whatever they need to perform at the highest level.

“They help so many people - £30 million a week is raised by the National Lottery and given to good causes. It’s not just elite level sport, but grassroots levels as well.

For Team Wales at this year’s Commonwealth Games, starting in Birmingham next week, the infrastructure and funding that’s in place seems to be producing a golden generation of track and field athletes peaking at just the right time.

Jeremiah Azu became British 100m champion last month, Hannah Brier will be competing in the 200m after becoming the fastest Welsh woman ever by setting a new record in the 100m, meanwhile Jake Heyward set a new Welsh record in the 1500m in May.

Regarding the Wales team’s chances in Birmingham, Iwan’s natural optimism is entirely justified, “Success breeds success”, he tells me.

“For someone like Joe Brier, for example, he might miss out on the final, or he might make it, or even win a medal, but whatever he does at these ones, it would give him the confidence to move on to the next one. 

Former sprinter Iwan Thomas discusses his new life with The National. (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency).Thomas winning gold at the 1998 European Championships in Budapest (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency).

“Rewind the clock to ‘94, I didn’t get a medal. But the experiences I learned from those games got me ready for Kuala Lumpur where I wasn’t fazed by any of it. The Commonwealth Games are vital in a sports person’s career”.

Despite retiring from racing, Thomas’s highly-competitive edge is still apparent. Last year he ran a 100-mile ultra marathon, and in October he’ll be competing in his first strongman competition.

“I don’t know why I’ve done that. I don’t think I’m ever going to be good enough to get back on National Lottery funding, but I try and give myself a new challenge every year, and I don’t think that will ever change. I’m a competitor.”

The next stop in his new life is as the MC for the track and field events at Birmingham's Commonwealth Games, and with his passion for the sport Thomas is easily one of the best-placed people to get a crowd fired up for the athletes.

"I can't wait to be there", he says.

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