For most aspiring athletes, the Olympics is simply a pipe dream. Unattainable, out of reach. But, for British born sprinter Charlotte Wingfield, her talents took her to the 2016 Rio Olympic games and, since then, she’s proudly represented Malta in the sport, scooping several awards and accolades along the way.
She’s come a long way since sprinting against school boys. Charlotte is one of Malta’s rising stars and, despite her travels around the world and undeniable success, life isn’t always easy.
We quizzed Charlotte on her Olympic career, about how she broke out into one of the most competitive industries there is and why mental preparation is just as important as physical.
“In year four at primary school, I started racing the boys in the playground. There was this one lad who was the fastest in the year and all my friends told me I should race him, so I did, and I ended up beating him! After that, another boy in year six wanted to race me and I ended up beating him too! At school, I really struggled to talk about my feelings, so I’d go to the school counsellor. One day, she saw me racing in the playground and she told me about a cross country race that was taking place the next weekend. She said I should give it a go so I thought, why not?
"As a kid, I always thought 'I want to go to the Olympics' so, when it actually happened, it was unbelievable."
When I turned up, I didn’t realise it was against year sevens! So, there I was, a little year four racing against year sevens and I ended up coming third and being asked to represent Middlesex in the English schools. But, because I was so young, I couldn’t do it! But I did end up being scouted and I then went on to compete at club level until year nine. In year 10, I got my first England vest and, from there, I’ve progressed to represent Malta in the Rio 2016 Olympic games!
Tell us about the Olympics! How did you feel when you found out you would be competing?
It all started in 2014 when I was watching Malta at the Commonwealth Games. At that time, I was really struggling to make the championships to represent Great Britain so I thought, ‘My Dad’s Maltese, I’ve got a Maltese passport, I could really make use of this’. So, I contacted Malta and they said they’d like to have me on the team! I ended up changing my nationality to represent Malta, won some major championships for them, like the Small Nations, and then it came to the Olympic year and the standards came out for Malta. They could only send one male and one female - it's decided on ranking points. I ended up getting the highest amount of points and was told I’d be going to the Olympics!
I was in shock. It took ages to sink in! As a kid, I always thought ‘I want to go to the Olympics’ so, when it actually happened, it was unbelievable. I was also asked to be the flag bearer at the closing ceremony and it really was the best experience ever. Now, I’m hoping Tokyo 2020 will be my next one – fingers crossed!
What does a typical week look like for a professional athlete?
An average week is made up of training – I split my training between Cardiff and Bath so I’m always between the two. It usually consists of track and gym and I train six days a week – Saturday is my only day off!
"If you've got a good, positive mindset, you can do anything."
When it comes to race season, my training changes quite a lot and, because I compete for Malta, I’m usually off in different locations training with them. It can be quite hectic trying to train as a full time athlete and working as well.
Do you find it difficult to balance an athletic career with a personal life?
I definitely found it tough when I was at uni, too. I was juggling my degree with training, working and trying to have a personal life and It did become quite draining. I did end up getting help, just talking about things really helped me balance things better. Now I’m not at uni, it is a lot easier but it’s still tough. There are a few athletes out there who are fully funded to just train whereas I’m training full time and working three jobs at the moment. But, I just think to myself, if I want to make it, there’s only one way I’m going to do it: by training hard and making the money myself.
What advice would you give to someone who’d like to be a professional athlete?
For me, age doesn’t matter. If you think you’ve got a talent, use it. Take Christine Ohuruogu. She’s a world champion 400 metre runner and she didn’t finish playing netball until she was around 18 and then went into athletics and she ended up becoming a world champ! If you’ve got the drive and ambition to say ‘I can do this’ and you put your mind to it, you really can. Some people will say ‘I can do this, I can do that’, but they just haven’t got the right attitude. So, if you go in with a positive attitude, don’t be afraid of the setbacks and accept you will get injured at some point and continue pushing forward, you can do it!
Diet, of course, also plays a huge part in your success. Mine’s not great, it’s something I do need to work on, but people think you can still eat rubbish and be a great athlete, but you really can’t. Your body needs good food, it needs fuel.
If you’ve got a good, positive mindset, you can do anything. Even if you just want to do it recreationally and just go out for a run, it’s all about mindset. And the people you surround yourself with, that helps a lot. I’ve got a really supportive training group who are there if something goes wrong.
What’s the best thing about your career?
My main highlight has got to be the Olympics. You can’t beat it, it’s a childhood dream. My nan sent me a photo of something I’d written as a child and I’d said I wanted to be a sprinter or long jumper at the Olympics so it really was a childhood dream for me and I honestly didn’t think it would come true.
"Sometimes I'll stand on the start line and just crumble. It's not just about physical preparation - you need to prepare yourself mentally, too."
I’ve hopefully got two more Olympic games in me yet. I’m prepping for 2020 already – the preparation started pretty much as soon as the last games ended! You’ve got to think of it as a long cycle. I have to give regular reviews of my progression – I’m achieving personal bests in my training and in the gym but it’s not coming out in my races at the moment. I just need to believe in myself a little bit more. I do struggle mentally. Sometimes I’ll stand on the start line and just crumble. It’s not just about physical preparation but you really need to prepare yourself mentally, too. It’s all about that positive mindset."
Inspired? Us too! You can follow Charlotte’s career over on her Instagram page. If it’s more training tips and info you’re after, head over to our blog – ever wondered how to prepare for a marathon? Have a read!