Like all sports, athletics suffered at the hands of coronavirus when the pandemic began just over 18 months ago.

But, like a lot of sports, athletics has also come out the other side in a rude state of health.

And for James Williams, CEO of the sport’s governing body in Wales, it’s all about continuing that move in the right direction.

Williams, the son of rugby legend JJ and older brother of 400m hurdles champion Rhys, has been in the top job at Welsh Athletics, initially on an interim basis, since late 2019.

Nearly all his time in the role has been under the cloud of Covid-19, which decimated sport when it reached British shores in early 2020.

Since then, for Williams and his team, everything has been geared towards getting athletics back on track.

And while there have been plenty of challenges, coronavirus has actually had a positive impact on the sport.

“We want to be the largest participation sport in Wales, but I think we are already, Covid has probably accelerated that,” said Williams, 39.

“A large part of our sport stopped when the pandemic started, but at the same time, many thousands of people found running for the first time during Covid.

“We had quite an unprecedented situation where despite the sport officially being on pause, we were getting huge growth. People were getting out there and running every day.

“We started a campaign in January called From My Door where we tried to encourage people to get out and be physically active, and the response has been incredible.

“We’ve come out of Covid in a positive situation in many regards, the running market in Wales is the biggest it has ever been.

“It’s been hugely challenging but many aspects of innovation and development have come from Covid that probably wouldn’t have happened had Covid not happened.

“From a social running perspective, those that are running every day across Wales, there are more people doing it now than ever before.

“Sport Wales has run a series of quarterly research and the number of people running has increased from 13 to 14 to 16 to 18% of the adult population running across Wales.

“I’ve spent my entire time so far as chief executive predominantly dealing with Covid, so it’s nice to hopefully look forward to what we can achieve as an organisation.”

Despite taking an initial hit financially, Williams says that side of things has made a good recovery.

“From a financial perspective, there were some acute short-term challenges around the start of the pandemic,” he said.

“All of our self-generated income dried up overnight and membership was down because people didn’t see any competition happening.

“But we run a very tight financial organisation here and the finance team worked really hard to mitigate the loss of income.

“We’ve come out in quite a strong place that enables us to continue to grow and invest back into the sport.

“Membership has bounced back this year and we’ve managed to get our coach education moved online quickly and delivered virtual events which engaged people.

“We weathered that storm with the help of Sport Wales and the Welsh Government, so from a financial position, it was challenging at the beginning but now we’re in a fairly stable position to look ahead.”

But, of course, there have been aspects of the sport that have taken a harder knock than others.

“There are challenges with certain technical aspects of the sport. Athletics covers 30 different sports and the high jumpers, long jumpers, pole vaulters etc couldn’t access facilities for many months,” added father-of-two Williams.

“Sadly, many haven’t returned, and those that have returned are way back from where they’d hoped to be.

“Many aspects of the sport have taken much longer to get back to full capacity.

“Again, sadly, our sport, like most sports across Wales, have lost a group of volunteers who have found other things to do on their Saturdays and Sundays.

“There’s a rebuilding job for us to do there around recruiting new volunteers, developing them and supporting them. That’s one thing we have done well, creating support networks around many aspects of our community.

“Our clubs have done a great job in not just keeping their members engaged but keeping their communities engaged.”

With the next Commonwealth Games on the horizon, a number of Wales’ elite athletes are looking to shine in Birmingham.

And their cause was certainly helped by the timing of the sport’s return during the pandemic.

“We were the first sport in Wales to get our elite athletes back on track,” said Williams.

“We worked very closely with Cardiff Met and Sport Wales to put in place a Covid-secure training environment for our able-bodied and para-athletes to train at the university.

“What they haven’t been able to do is get overseas to their training camps and the level of competitions they would have loved to do.

“We were probably the first sport outside of professional sport to get domestic competition back. Our competition team did a great job in creating an environment that was Covid-secure.

“It was very small scale to begin with, only elite competitions, but those gave a blueprint to grow and we delivered upwards of 60 events over the summer.

“We tried to get to the point where everybody who wanted to compete could compete, culminating in the Welsh Senior Championships which was a fantastic celebration of the sport.”