Ruth Jones finds out what the UK 200m record-holder has been doing since he hung up his spikes
The UK 200m record-holder and the first Briton to break 20 seconds for the distance may have retired from athletics 16 years ago, but John Regis remains an integral part in the burgeoning careers of future stars of the track.
Although he took his time believing in his own potential as a precocious teenage sprinter – and still rates his relay gold in the 1991 World Championships 4x400m as his greatest achievement rather than individual glory – he is brimming with positive belief in his own protégés now he is in the athlete management industry at Stellar Athletics.
The 49-year-old three-time Olympian set up the business with his ex-partner and fellow GB sprinter Jennifer Stoute when he hung up his spikes 16 years ago.
However, it wasn’t a straightforward path to his current role managing the professional lives of world-class athletes including Lynsey Sharp, Serita Solomon, Eilish McColgan, Laura Muir, Shara Proctor and Desiree Henry to name but a few on the company’s roll call.
He explains how he arrived in his current position, saying: “Way back in 2000, I was hoping to make my fourth Olympic team, but I was finding training hard,” he says.
“The combination of posting a 21.21 result in Hungary behind four athletes who were normally behind me by some distance, and the fact I didn’t feel the buzz or the drive anymore, led to me retiring the day after that race,” he adds.
“I went on to try bobsleigh and made the GB squad, before realising the cold is way too cold for me! I then worked with the BBC and during my last five months there, I set up Stellar Athletics with the Stellar Group, a sports management agency, which gave me an insight into managing the careers of professional sports men and women.”
“I went on to try bobsleigh and made the GB squad, before realising the cold is way too cold for me!”
The former aspiring footballer from Lewisham is hands on with the day-to-day running of the business, working alongside five experienced team members, all of whom were previously involved in athletics to a high standard.
Regis’s work diary varies from organising athletes’ travel and racing arrangements from his office in Stanhope Place in London, to flying all over the world helping to ensure they arrive safely at their race location and have everything they need in place to allow them to compete at the highest level.
“Depending on the day, I could be on a flight to Europe or America for an athletics meet, where some of our clients are competing, or working 11-6pm in the office back in the UK,” he explains. “If I’m on the road, as soon as I’ve arrived and checked into my hotel, I make sure my competing athletes’ accommodation is in place, and they have the information they need for the race, such as their lanes, who their competitors are, their meal times, training, the bus timetable to the track, and they have physiotherapy or massage if needed, before finally calling my daughters (Alicia, 14, top ranked under-15 200m talent, and promising 60m athlete, 10-year-old Renee) before I go to sleep.
“A day in the office involves contacting event directors to confirm our clients are in their meets, calling injured athletes to see if they’re recovering, or if they need extra help, speaking to my US colleagues to see what, if any, developments have occurred, checking on potential new clients, overseeing athletes’ travel arrangements, and perhaps a few meetings before leaving by 6pm.”
He is keen to help the athletes he manages reach the same dizzy heights of international glory he did, with the memories of his first senior 200m bronze aged just 20 still invoking excitement when he recalls his breakthrough result.
“It was the first international race where I went from being a ‘no name athlete’ to someone the world knew existed,” he explains. “It was an amazing feeling to be so close to a gold, but to be on the podium and to hear my name broadcast to the stadium and the cheers I received, made me feel hungry for more success. I began to believe even more that I could be a star!”
That moment came just three years after he turned professional, following his first AAA 200m victory over a certain Linford Christie and Todd Bennett, before going on to to win his first international medal the following year, a European Junior 100m bronze to go with the gold he won in the 4x100m in Cottbus, Germany.
The Belgrave Harrier knows how important having a reliable support team is if success is to be achieved by his young elites, but acknowledges that his own career was backed more by the belief his club and parents had in his abilities than the sport’s governing body.
Speaking about his success in the senior athletics ranks, he says his own will to succeed and determination together with that of his equally high flying team mates were essential components in his financial ‘survival’ as an elite runner.
“My GB teammates were – and still are – my friends, and we all had the same drive and belief in our ability to take on the world,” he reveals. “We wanted to maintain our level of excellence, and, if one athlete stood on the podium, we all wanted to emulate that in our own events.
“We knew that our performances would be our financial gain, so we just focused on being the best, which would then bring the financial rewards. There wasn’t as much support from the athletics governing body as there is today, so we had to be successful to survive.”
“My GB teammates were – and still are – my friends, and we all had the same drive and belief in our ability to take on the world”
His substantial global relay medal collection clearly means just as much to the man coached by greats including John Isaacs (1986-1993), John Smith (1993- 1995), and Clarence Callender (1995-1998), but he concedes that although he enjoyed great success alongside household names such as Roger Black and Kriss Akabusi, they could have been an even greater force to be reckoned with.
“Athletics is an individual sport, so the only time we were a team was in a relay, the highlight of which was being part of the 4x400m team that beat the USA to become world champions in 1991,” he recalls.
“That was my best moment in athletics, as although we were massive underdogs, we ran perfect races to win.
“However, relays don’t work if you’re not all on the same wavelength – egos must be left at the door and the team must be the focus. We didn’t have the same complete unity in the 4x100m – that meant we were good, when we should have been great.”
Reminiscing about his career highlights gives a clear insight into how he is able to handle the pressure and expectations of current and future Olympians on a daily basis.
“My first major championship win will always have a special spot in my memory, and that together with winning the world indoors in 1987 and being the first ever GB winner in that event, gave me the belief that I could have a great career in athletics,” he reveals.
Although his international sprinting days are behind him, he still keeps fit doing regular T25 fitness training (intense short bursts of exercise completed in 25 minutes), golf, tennis and occasional runs, but his busy days managing today’s and tomorrow’s track and field stars, together with supporting the next generation of Regis talent, consume more energy than his sporting pastimes ever could.