With London 2012's opening ceremony just 479 days away, Sport.co.uk has been speaking to Iwan Thomas about the exciting times that lie ahead for British athletics. In our interview with him, the former European and Commonwealth 400m champion tells us about Team GB's best medal prospects, the state of UK athletics, doping and his jealousy of those competing in a home Games.
Have you had the chance to visit the Olympic site in Stratford?
I have actually yeah. I was really lucky, a few months ago I went up in a helicopter and flew over the site which was amazing to see how it was taking shape from bird-eye view. Then I have also visited it on ground level about 6 weeks ago.
I remember at Athens they were still putting in the last screws the night before so I think Lord Coe has done a really good job to get it all ready in time.
What do you make of the facilities there?
Brilliant. I would expect nothing less, it's the Olympics, it's the biggest sporting event on the planet so I knew London would put on a good show.
How disappointing is it for you not being able to take part in an Olympics in your home country?
Very, I wish I was 8 years younger. I am very envious of all the athletes running now, I wish it was my time. The only comparison I've got, and I was injured then anyway, is the Manchester Commonwealth Games 2002. I got a silver medal but I was actually injured at the time but it was just great to run in front of a home crowd so I can only imagine how great London will be. You have just got to look at Beijing and the support the home athletes got there.
I honestly think that if an athlete cannot raise their game and get the best out of themselves in London then they never will because it is a great opportunity.
Do you think that the extra pressure and expectation that comes with a home Games could be a hindrance to the athletes or do you think they will be able to raise their game?
Well as an athlete I can only speak for myself. But pressure is a great thing to get the best out of yourself. You have two types of performers; you will have someone who may crumble under the pressure and then you have the athletes who will use the home crowd to their advantage. Pressure is a good thing in sport so no, I honestly think that if they've made the team then there is no way the pressure should get to them, I think the pressure should enable them to add an extra 20% to their performance.
What would you say Britain's best medal prospects are for London 2012?
Although the Olympics is less than 18 months away, a lot can happen in that time so it is hard to predict who is going to be in great shape this time next year. But if you look at current form then Jessica Ennis of course, Phillips Idowu, someone like Dai Greene and Rhys Williams in the 400m hurdles, I'm interested to see both those guys run. As for my event, Martyn Rooney, I would love to see him step up and run faster. It's a long way off to say who is going to be running well but I think UK athletics is in a good place at the moment, there are some really good athletes about.
So you are optimistic about the current crop of British athletes?
Yeah, I am. It has been a hard couple of years because the sport has gone through a bit of a transitional phase where we have had a lot of household names retire of the last five, ten years. The likes of Colin Jackson, Steve Backley, Denise Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, these are people who would deliver every year but have now retired so it has taken a few years for a new crop of stars to come through.
I think women's middle distance in particular is strong at the moment. Mo Farah as well, of course, he is running well. So I honestly think British athletics is in quite a good place.
Do you think there is anyone around at the moment who could potentially beat your UK 400m record?
It's a weird one because obviously it's lovely to hold the British record and it's been 14 years this year so part of me doesn't want it to go but if I'm honest, for the love of my sport I want to see it progress. Roger Black had the record for just 12 months before I took it and I'm surprised it's still standing.
I think if Martyn Rooney can run to the best of his ability then hopefully he will get close. There are other athletes like Andrew Steele, who has been injured for a couple of years, but he is a good athlete. Ultimately, I think if you are expecting to get an Olympic medal you are going to have to run 44.3s so let's hope that over the next year Martyn can get close to my record.
Considering that just last year you were awarded a gold medal for the 4x400m relay from the 1997 World Championships after the US team was disqualified for doping, how worried are you that doping problems could overshadow events at London 2012?
I don't really want to get into that side of the sport but all I will say is that I lived my whole career knowing that I was clean. I didn't even take vitamins to be honest. You cant worry about races week-in-week-out wondering if it is a level playing field because you would pull your hair out and not want to race. Without a doubt, all the drug-testing methods are going to be as strict as ever and if there are any drug cheats in any of the sports then they will be found out. Let's just hope all the sports will be clean. Unfortunately sport in business and you will always have people who are willing to cheat and push the boundaries of the sport but it doesn't really concern me whatsoever, I'm just looking forward to a great home Games.
So which events are you most looking forward to watching?
Obviously track & field. I'm being biased, but that is the blue-ribboned event. But at Athens I was injured but I went to watch because when you are a competing athlete you don't get the chance to watch other sports because you are so focused on your own performances.
I went to watch women's beach volleyball, I watched Amir Kahn box and I saw swimming for the first time in the flesh and I'm actually really interested in cycling as well.
I think whatever tickets anybody can get for London, even if it is for a lesser known sport, then you still should go for it because you will be surprised how great the Olympics is. It doesn't have to be athletics or swimming or cycling, you can go and watch archery or clay-pigeon shooting, all the events there are going to be interesting.
What do you expect to be doing when the Games do eventually come around?
Well, I am heavily involved in the Paralympics with the work I am doing with Channel 4 and I also have an ambassadorial role with UK Athletics so hopefully I will be there in a professional position but if not then I will definitely be there watching!
International 400m gold medallist Iwan Thomas officially launched the Gatorade 10K at Bluewater which takes place on Sunday 5th June 2011. For further information and to download an entry form please visit www.bluewater10k.co.uk