Sprinter James Arnott competed at his debut Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast in April this year, where he came away with the silver medal in the T47 100m race. Now training in Hertfordshire after moving from his hometown of Plymouth, James won two gold medals at the IPC World Para Athletics Grand Prix 2017 and later became Sports Aid’s Athlete of the Month. Meeting up with James, we find out about winning silver at the Commonwealth Games, his first race for Team GB and future events he’s targeting.
How was it winning Silver in the T47 100m race at your Commonwealth Games debut earlier this year?
Unreal, I couldn’t really put it into words. I went into it not really knowing the type of competition, so in my head I went in thinking I was the underdog and that everyone else is quicker than me. I remember running, I couldn’t see anyone, I could see the guy in front of me of course but I couldn’t see anyone else, and I was like, oh god where are they, I was just running for my life. Obviously, as the crowd gets louder the closer to the line you get, it just builds and it was like a hand of god just pushing me along. When I crossed the line and looked up at the board, I was just like, I’m a Commonwealth Silver medalist! It’s a really weird feeling and it’s really hard to put into words.
What was the atmosphere like staying in the athletes village?
Ah it was crazy, everyone was so excited. We had our own Team England block, we had a swimming pool and it was really amazing. We were the first ones in and everyone was just super buzzed. We were on the other side of the world, around people we knew from competitions and training etc, and everyone was just super excited to be there. Once people had competed they would just chill out and relax, they would share stories from when they competed, either good or bad, and it was getting me ready to go, so it was always a high, it was always good.
Did you have much time to explore the area?
Not so much. I was actually there for a month and my race was right at the end of the month so I had to kind of stay in race mode in a way. I went to the Gold Coast beach, of course I had to do that as the sand is unbelievable, I went to the koala sanctuary so I got to hold a koala, meet kangaroos and stuff like that which, when you’re in Australia, you know you’ve got to do that! I went to a lot of coffee shops, nothing really too tiring, I didn’t really go on big treks to see places because I had training, I had to focus on the main goal why I was there so I was just kind of sightseeing.
Were your family able to be there to watch you compete?
Yeah, my mum, my mum’s boyfriend and also my auntie and cousin who live in Australia. It was nice for them to come. My auntie and my mum are sisters and they haven’t seen each other in years, so I feel to be that glue to bring them together was really something special and made the moment even better.
Which countries have you competed in?
Dubai, Australia twice, Portugal, Italy twice, England and Germany… I think that might be it!
What can you remember about your first race for Team GB?
Haha, I was super nervous! I remember sitting in the call up room beforehand. You’re in there for about fifteen minutes and I was getting the shakes. I didn’t feel like I’d had enough sugar but I’d had plenty and I was just super nervous. I remember the team coach at the time came up to me, emptied my bottle of water, put in half a bottle of dilute and then filled it up with maybe a quarter of water so it was just completely strong sugar and I was just chucking it down. I got onto the track and I was doing some warm up runs, I was just like, oh my god, like I just didn’t think I’d be able to run, I thought I was just going to collapse, I was awful but then when I crossed the line and obviously did well the feelings were just immense and I didn’t feel weak anymore, I felt amazing, hahaha!
How long after starting in athletics was your first major competition?
I started athletics when I was fifteen, I believe, just after London 2012, and I think within the year I managed to get to the World Juniors where I got a Bronze medal in the 100m and 200m, so it came at me quite fast. So maybe about a year, but it felt like longer.
Where do you do most of your training and how many hours a week do you train?
At an athletics centre called Lee Valley in Enfield. It’s a massive indoor and outdoor facility with a 200m track inside and a 120m straight. It has a gym as well so it’s just perfect for both aspects of the sport. I train maybe about twenty-one hours a week but it varies depending on different sessions.
Have you always wanted to be an athlete?
Not in running, no. I always wanted to be a rugby player. My eldest brother was always playing rugby and he ended up becoming a professional rugby player, so I always wanted to play, but obviously with my arm it kind of didn’t allow me to. I never shied away of trying to get involved, I always wanted to be involved in some way. He also used to do sprinting, he was quite good at that as well and I just went everywhere he went, trained where he trained, and then I just got told I was good, hahaha!
The time I knew I was fast was in a rugby game. I talked my PE teacher into letting me play a game of rugby, I told my mum and she agreed with it. I think I was in year eight or year nine, obviously the boys weren’t massive then so I had a chance. I only played for the first half but I made so many runs and tackles and stuff. When I came off at half time – I’ll never ever forget this moment – two old guys came over and said, ‘oh, son, you’re really fast, you should really do something with that speed’, and that was the first time I thought about athletics. It’s just stayed with me.
Were there any athletes that inspired you when growing up?
Not really. It’s kind of cliché but my two older brothers as they’ve always been there throughout my whole life. I’ve had a couple of difficulties with my arm and other problems but they never ever just said, ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’. One time I was in a massive body cast, my left hand out like a teapot, they put me in goal and blasted a football at me, hahaha! It’s those types of things… people might look at it like, oh wow, but they always pushed me to go on. Even when we went to the gym and I couldn’t do a certain weight because of my arm, they’d change it and adapt it. They never ever left me out of the circle and I always looked up to them.
What did you hope to achieve when starting your professional career?
I wanted to be World Champion, as I believe everyone does when they start their journey in sport. Also, from my career I want to build myself a podium and platform to then, when I go back to my hometown, create almost like a foundation for underprivileged kids and create extracurricular activities for them. For me, it was tough getting into PE with being told that I wasn’t allowed to do certain things. I wouldn’t say I’m underprivileged but obviously I have different circumstances, so coming from that I want to give everyone equal opportunities.
How was it being Sports Aid’s Athlete of the Month last year?
That was cool! You get told and then you get asked to write a paragraph and you answer some questions. There are a lot of people on Sports Aid and just to see that you’ve been selected is great, and knowing people actually see what you do. Sometimes, when you’re training a lot you think, ah no one appreciates this, I’m just working hard and no one’s seeing it, but people are seeing it and they recognise it. I think, for me, just knowing that I’ve got the recognition was a great feeling.
You are originally from Plymouth, do you get chance to visit often?
Not as much as I would like to and I have a job as well now. The last time I went home was actually a month ago for the early May bank holiday and that was literally on the spur of the moment. I didn’t even know it was bank holiday actually, on the Thursday I was like, yep I’m just going to go home. The time before that was Christmas, and then the time before that would have been summer, so it’s not that many times. It’s quite tough but we all make it work.
Having previously uploaded videos to YouTube, do you have plans to start uploading again in the future?
I want to. The reason why I stopped is because it felt like a lot of people started to do it and it became just another athlete video. When I went home for the bank holiday, one of my best friends Brandon was really getting on to me, telling me to do them again, saying that I had this great opportunity to share with other people. The reason I started it was to show the people in Plymouth what I’m doing and how I’m getting on and just to kind of stay in contact in a way, but I just faded away from it eventually. I definitely plan to start doing them again, 100%.
Do you have your sights set on any upcoming major events in the next few years?
Yes, this year’s Europeans, next year is the World Championships, and that will hopefully be my first World Championships as well, and then 2020, of course, the Tokyo Paralympics, and that is what I’ve been going for since I started. I knew Rio was too close to get to the level that everyone’s at in the world, so I’ve given myself a few extra years to get ready, and I believe I should go, fingers crossed. Whoever reads this, hahaha, I should! I want to go!
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