History making Oliver Heeks is Double Champion.

(by Dave Joyce)

Orion Harriers may be nearly 100 years old and steeped in history but the Club is still not too old to have some of our many fine young athletes, both male and female continuing to make club history, achieving success for the club, at school, University and County level with the prospect of further successes and ultimately international achievements in the future.

Orion Harriers has historically produced a number of exceptional Cross-Country runners during its history including three internationals plus county and area champions. Until this year however Orion has never had an Essex County Senior Men's Middle distance Track Champion and a double champion at that!

On Saturday 9 May at Chelmsford Orion's 20 years old Oliver Heeks won the Essex AAAs 800 metres Senior Mens Championship title and so made history in becoming the Club's first Senior Mens County Track Champion, over 800 metres. When Oli proudly stood on top of the medal podium to receive the huge silver championship cup, he couldn't but notice that the trophy dated back to 1910, the year before Orion Harriers creation and that his would be the first Orion name to be added to the engraved role of honour.

But it gets even better! This wasn't the first Essex title for Oli because earlier this year on 15th February at the Lea Valley Sports Arena, Oliver won the "Indoor" Essex AAAs 800 metres Senior Mens Championship title and so it's a "double" triumph thatís now being proudly celebrated and to put the icing on the cake Oli's winning times of 1:55 (indoor) at Lea Valley and 1:52 (outdoor) at Chelmsford were both personal best times and marked a continuation of improvements and success that build progress towards Oli's future aspirations.

After winning the 800 metres title on the Saturday however, Oli wasn't finished with the Essex Championships for 2009 and instead of resting on his laurels, he returned to the track the following day on the Sunday, 10th May, to have a crack at the 1500 metres, a distance he has run only infrequently to date but plans to run more in the future. Despite that, the result was that Oli broke the 4 minute barrier for the first time with 3:57 which gave him the Silver medal behind Basildon AC's James Clarke who in fact had got Silver behind Oli the day before in the 800 metres final.

Although Oliver has been running since the age of eleven, he only decided to take up athletics seriously 2 years ago. Oli joined Orion Harriers at the age of 13 and as he recalls it was traditionally heavily focused towards the cross country season. Oli ran for the Orion junior team in Chingford cross-country League and later on the track in Junior Track and Field league competition with average results. At the time however Oli was also playing football, rugby and a number of other sports for fun at an average level until one day he decided he wanted to be above average and realised he needed to focus on one sport in order to reach a high level. Thankfully, Oli chose athletics, simply down to the fact that he enjoyed the sport and only had to rely on himself to improve performance and reach the top.

There's nothing like a bit of 'shock treatment' to kick-start a promising career however and Oliver certainly got that when he first approached his current coaches Jane Farrow and Colin Loughland. Jane Farrow was a P.E. teacher at Oli's school and Oli knew Jane was an experienced athletics coach who has worked with Colin Loughland for a long time. Colin didn't mince his words when he told Oliver just how lazy he was and needed to buck his ideas up if he was to succeed. Not to be deterred, Oli joined up with Jane and Colin's group where he also linked up with his current training partner Jon Long.

Since joining up with Colin and Jane two years ago, Oli's 800 metres personal best time has plummeted, dropping from 2 minutes 3 seconds to 1 minute 52 seconds. Oli says "This drastic improvement alone shows how gifted they both are as athletics coaches. Colinís vast experience in athletics has been a major help in getting me through races tactically perfect. They have put in many hours and driven many miles to ensure that I get the best racing opportunities and I am forever thankful to them both for this."

Colin Loughland and Jane Farrow said "With his training partner and mentor Jonathon long, Oli has knuckled down and has been working hard both at home in Essex and at Portsmouth University. He's set himself positive targets for this season and is currently on track to achieve them. Since September 2008 he's had to fit in training with university work and has not really been able to get the mileage in he would have wished. This in someway indicates his potential. At the Essex championships he planned and executed his race tactics to perfection to win the senior men's 800m title and followed up with another good performance by clinching the silver medal in the 1500m, beating his personal best by 3 seconds".

Why the 800 metres? Oli explained "The first ever track race I done was the 800m and I came first so I have stuck with it ever since. I am pretty quick over the 400m (pb 49:98) but I enjoy the race mentality in the 800m more. I would like to think that I can stick with the 800m as my main event as I have a good mix of speed and endurance. However I have only recently started racing the 1500m and enjoy the race so I'll maybe run more 1500's and one day may step up to that distance as my main event."

Oliver is currently at Portsmouth University on a 4 year degree course studying International Business which will include one year work placement in London. Portsmouth he says is all going well so far studying wise and with first class facilities on hand, most of Oli's training is done down in Hampshire, in the so called 'waterfront-city' on the south coast of England. There Oli trains with the University's athletics team. However he's home most weekends and trains on the Woodford track with his training partner Jon Long. Training at present is once a day, six days a week. However when his exams are finished Oli will be looking to step some days up to training twice a day, as he endeavours to achieve his goals.

In the short term, looking at the plans for this season on the track, June and July is a busy time in the big events calendar. Oli is hoping that his triumph in the 800m at the Essex Championships will gain him selection for the Essex Senior Mens team for the national inter counties championships at Bedford in July. Oli also intends to run the South of England Championships at Watford in June and having already achieved the qualifying time for the England Athletics Under 23 championships also at Bedford on the weekend of 21/22 June, Oli plans 4 weeks of hard training in preparation for the national championships after he finishes University for the summer in early June.

Oli is concentrating seriously on improving his personal best to around the 1 minute 50 second mark this season and as he says "If I can do that then it'll give me a chance of getting in to the final and possibly in the medals at both the South of England and the England Athletics national championships. My aim for this season is defiantly to get under 1 minute 51 seconds. If I can achieve this then that will put me in great stead to break 1 minute 50 seconds next season."

This winter will see Oli probably looking to do a lot more cross country than in the past couple of years, especially the Chingford League for Orion Harriers he says!. This will simply be to build up endurance for the track season ahead and he also plans to run some 5km road races across the country.

In the long term Oliver says "My ultimate goal would be to one day represent my country on the track. Although I have dual citizenship with Australia, representing England would be my number one aim. However I still have a long way to go yet. If at the end of University I'm not competing among the elite middle distance runners in England, I will be looking to go into insurance broking in the city. Unfortunately that will probably bring to an end my track running days at a decent level but I'll then perhaps look at other challenges and fun like one day competing in the London Marathon and also doing an Ironman Triatholan (a bit different to 800 metres!").

Speaking about Orion Harriers move in to Senior Track and Field in recent years Oliver says ďI joined Orion at the age of 13 and in my eyes it was heavily focused towards cross country. By tradition Orion will always be a strong cross country, harriers club but I think it's a positive step for the club to diversify and its good that Orion have been competing in Senior Track and Field for the last 5 years as I believe it opens the club up to more members as some people are attracted more to racing in the summer than in the winter and when Juniors move up to the seniors they can continue track and field if thatís their preferred option."

Oli's running idol is one of the World's greatest runners of all time, Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele the World and Olympic record holder for both 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres and reigning two-time Olympic champion over 10,000 metres and the most accomplished runner in IAAF World Cross Country Championships with 11 titles. Oli says "Although he's not an 800m runner, I think he is a great athlete to watch as he is so technically gifted. It's amazing how in the closing stages of a 10,000 metres race he can run a 55 second last lap!".

On the state of UK middle distance running at present Oli concludes "Having had some great runners in the past, I think the big problem with middle distance athletics at the moment is that there is no one to look up to and in order to improve this I think greater incentives are needed for young people to get into the sport and stay in the sport".

Athletes like Oli continue to bring athletic and running prestige to Orion Harriers. Successes such as those achieved by Oli in recent months are certainly great for Oli and can only be good for Orion and help continue to lead to an upsurge of interest in our club and our sport which has seen Orion membership grow to healthy levels in recent years. A lot more people in the Club will know who Oliver Heeks is now and no doubt will follow his career with interest. Lets hope one day he makes it to the very top and provides Orion with another Great Britain and Northern Ireland International.

Personal Bests

400m 49:98 (2008)

800m 1:52 (2009)

1500m 3:57 (2009)