YOG star Jazmin Sawyers on why singing on stage is scarier than the Olympic Games
Great Britain’s Jazmin Sawyers first caught our eye when winning a bobsleigh silver medal at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Innsbruck 2012; but last year she was seen leaping her way into the Olympic long jump final at Rio 2016.
You’re currently known more as a long jumper, but we saw you winning a silver medal in bobsleigh at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Innsbruck 2012. How did you get involved in bobsleigh?
Before I got involved in bobsleigh, I was a heptathlete. I was training at Millfield School in Somerset (Great Britain) when some coaches from the British bobsleigh team came to give a presentation asking for athletes to try out for the team for the Youth Olympic Games. I thought, "Well that looks like a lot of fun. Maybe I'd be good at it." They were looking for athletes with speed and power, and the speed and power events were always my strongest ones in the heptathlon, so I thought, "Yes, I'm going to go for it." I managed to make the initial team, and then we trained for two years with the goal of qualifying for Innsbruck.
How did you feel about switching sports and focusing on a completely new goal?
It felt like a huge opportunity, partly because I'd missed out on the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore as I was injured in 2010. I had a bad hamstring injury and I remember being absolutely gutted to miss out. So when the guys from British Bobsleigh turned up, I thought, "This is a massive opportunity. You're so young that you don't have to be specialised in a sport yet, you can try things. When are you ever going to get the chance to go to another Youth Olympic Games? You're not; you're going to be too old. This is a sport you've never tried before; someone has handed you an opportunity." So I thought, "I've got to take it, I've got to try." It was definitely a case of, "I could get to go to the Youth Olympic Games here," when I thought that dream was over after 2010. An opportunity presented itself in front of me; it felt crazy to say no.
After Innsbruck, you switched your attentions to long jump rather than going back to heptathlon. What prompted that change?
I never actually stopped doing track; I just went away to bobsleigh in the winter and was still competing on the track in the summer. After 2012, I was conditioned much better just to do one event because I hadn't been training for the 800 metres [while focusing on bobsleigh]. I was really only conditioned to do the long jump. I did that with a view to going back to heptathlon the year after; but I was actually much better at the long jump than I ever had been at the heptathlon, so I just stuck with that. It meant I didn't have to run 800m any more as well, so I was quite happy about that!
Do you think your experiences in Innsbruck helped prepare you for the Olympic Games Rio 2016 last year?
Definitely. Just things like living with all the British athletes from other sports, or just walking around the Village and seeing all these people who have won events for different countries – it’s an exposure to that which you’re really lucky to get because then, when you get to the Olympic Games, you’re actually used to it already. You just think, "Oh this is normal, I remember this from Innsbruck.” You remember how everything works, like the accreditation or the dining room. It helps normalise it, so that when you go to the Games as a senior athlete it isn’t so overwhelming. And then just the extra intensity and pressure that comes with it being an Olympic title ¬– that helps too. Even though you’re just doing the same event that you’ve been training for and competed in hundreds of times, something changes when you add the word “Olympic” in there. We learned that in Innsbruck; it just felt different. So, in Rio, I was ready for that to happen; I was ready for that different kind of intensity and that different kind of pressure that comes with being at the Olympic Games.
How do you reflect on your unique journey to Rio?
Going to the Olympic Games is like a childhood dream. I feel like it hasn't been the journey that I'd planned – I never really intended to throw a Winter Youth Olympic Games in there – but I felt so well prepared. I felt like I'd done so much through the age groups that, as much as nothing can really prepare you for the Olympic Games, I was as prepared as you can be. I think I would have found it more difficult had I not been to the Youth Olympic Games. Looking back now, it was an incredible experience and I'm pleased that I actually took the time to enjoy it. I really appreciated being there [in Rio]. Also, with time to reflect, now I can have a look at what I possibly could have done better, both in the lead-up and actually out there, and really just take that forward in the hope of doing better in Tokyo [in 2020].
Do you think it’s important for young athletes to pursue a number of different sports, as you did?
To me, it was massively important because it meant that nothing became too serious before it had to be. It meant that I was still enjoying it. It meant that I, as an individual, got to choose what I ended up doing rather than just relentlessly pursuing one thing because that's what I'd done since I was young. I feel like I arrived at where I'm supposed to be much more naturally because I tried lots of different things. Actually, I think it made me a better athlete to do lots of different sports because, in terms of my body, I was engaging in so many different activities that it meant I was conditioned to do lots of things. I don't see the value in specialising so early on. One, you're much more likely to get sick of it; and two, you might miss out on something that you could really love and be really great at.
What advice would you offer to young athletes who might also be choosing between two sports?
I suppose I would say, "Keep pursuing the thing that you love the most." That's how I ended up weaving this strange path. The thing that I was enjoying the most was what I worked the hardest at. I think that's the way you get success. Your happiness precedes success; it's not the other way around. Accept that things aren't going to go the way you thought they were, because they absolutely never do. If I had stuck rigidly to the path that I'd planned out for myself at 14 or 15 I don't think I'd have ended up in Rio.
You’ve also demonstrated your talents away from the sporting arena , singing on the British TV show, The Voice. How does standing on stage in front of four judges compare to competing on an Olympic stage?
It's scarier! Firstly, you can't see their faces; and secondly, there is no objective measuring. Standing on the runway in the Olympic stadium it's, "If I jump far then they get to measure it and no one can argue with it." But standing on that stage I could have the best performance of my life and they could all still hate it, so I think it's a little bit scarier.
Is a music career still something that you’d like to pursue, or are you totally focused on sport now?
Oh yes music, absolutely, I'm still going. I'm playing a festival at the end of the year, I'm doing an awful lot; it's just that sport is the priority right now. I am definitely still involved in music and I'm hoping that eventually a career in that will develop. Right now, I'm just kind of having fun with it, but I'm intending to go to it after I'm done [competing].