Four-time world outdoor long jump champion and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Dwight Phillips knows what it takes to climb the top rung of the podium. He tells SPIKES his seven-point guide to winning a world title.

1. Avoid distractions

“More important than an athlete’s physical condition is their mental strength and not letting outside factors distract them. Today we live in a social media age – people are easier to scrutinise. Take Olympic champion Greg Rutherford, for example. People earlier this year were saying on Twitter that his British record jump wasn’t legitimate. You can't allow that to influence you.

“As an athlete it is important to have tunnel vision and not allow outside distractions to affect you emotionally, which can impact on performance. You need to be mentally tough, which Greg has proved this year by winning the Commonwealth and European titles.

“From my own career, my last world title victory in 2011 I had to show mental toughness. Leading into the world champs I had lost every competition that year and didn't even make the final at US nationals. Yet I knew if I could string together 3-4 weeks of great training, I had a shot at winning.

“Mitchell Watt had the best jump in the world with 8.54m, but I knew if I could pressure him early, I had a great chance of winning the competition. That was my strategy – and that is exactly what I did. I jumped 8.45m with my second attempt, put pressure on the rest of the field and they were unable to respond.” 

Dwight Phillips SPIKES ()

Four time #1 - Phillips wins his fourth world championship in 2011

2. Practise intensity

“I try to be very consistent in practise and prepare like it is a competition. I replicate training just like it was a world champs final. I would always make sure in practise that my first, second and third approaches were right on point. That gave me the confidence going into a competition that I could execute that same thing in competition. One of my high school coaches told me that practise makes permanent.

“All of my training sessions were very intense. I trained with many guys who were very fast and I worked a lot harder than them. I had a 400m mentality for training. I was accustomed to that competitive environment from featuring on winning teams in basketball in my younger days. I would train with guys who would always be really honest and not let me slack.”

3. Maintain focus

“I had been on auto-pilot from 2003–2005 and won all the global titles. Yet after this I definitely had a mental shift. I had achieved things I never dreamed of, lacked motivation. To be the best for a sustained period, it taught me to be humble.”

Dwight Phillips SPIKES ()

In 2007 Phillips had to settle for bronze, but it helped him re-focus

“It was Irving Saladino, the 2007 world and 2008 Olympic champ, who brought me back down to earth.”

4. Adopt a smart training plan

“I would typically re-start training in October and progress a little bit each month. I would often train in the cold winter months in Georgia, but because the cold made me more susceptible to injuries I often held back in the winter.

“I would then have a strategic plan from March to June to put in some really great training sessions and compete in sprints. If I competed well against the world’s best in the sprints, it gave me a lot of confidence. If I could translate the speed and velocity on take-off in the long jump I knew I would be difficult to beat.”

5. Know your body

“During the latter stages of your preparation for a world championships you know you are often treading a fine line between being in absolute peak condition and pushing it too far and being injured. The 2005 season had been a challenging year, but for the last four weeks leading up to the Helsinki world champs, I found my rhythm – I was in the best shape of my life. 

Dwight Phillips SPIKES ()

Power, frequency, jump, then the crowd goes wild.

“I can remember training with the likes of Maurice Greene and Terrence Trammell. We were running flying 30m and 60m and I was running faster times than any of them – it was amazing. I knew at that time I was on a fine line I could injure myself. I had to hold back and listen to my instincts to rein it in. You have to really know and understand your body.”

6. Control your emotions

“I remember in my younger days competing in major finals – my arms would be shaking and I would be struggling to contain my emotions. At my first Olympic Games in Sydney, when I finished seventh, I had great energy, but I was using it in a negative way. I allowed my emotions to control me.

“I remember the battle for long jump gold was going back and forth between Ivan Pedroso and Jai Taurima. I was enjoying the competition and also cheering on John Capel [the US sprinter] in the 200m – I was happy about everything. Yet, by the time the long jump started I was emotionally drained.

“From that point on my coach and I knew I had to control my emotions in a positive way if I was to have success. I was not a person who listened to music – I would just concentrate on my breathing. I learned to block everything out and count the first ten steps of my run. Then, after ten steps it was about turning my legs over as quickly as possible. Power, frequency, jump, then the crowd goes wild.” 

Dwight Phillips SPIKES ()

When Phillips won the world indoor title in 2003, people thought it was a fluke

7. Believe

“I won most of my major competitions in the early rounds, except my first world outdoor title in Paris. I had won the world indoor title in Birmingham earlier in the year, but most people regarded it as a fluke.

“In Paris I controlled my emotions, rose to the occasion and executed everything that my coach told me to and won with 8.32m. I was so proud. I attributed that to believing in my own ability.”