Wales

The stars sacrificing Christmas Day for sport

IBF featherweight champion Lee Selby Image copyright Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Image caption "I can enjoy Christmas now for the first time in a few years"

Training or turkey? That is the question many of Wales' sport stars face this Christmas.

While most of the country shuts down to relax and spend time with family, athletes have to make sure they stay at the top of their game.

Here people from the worlds of rugby, boxing, weightlifting and horseracing talk about the sacrifices they make for their sport.

The boxer

Image copyright Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Image caption Selby (L) in action against Ramirez at the Copper Box Arena in London

Speaking after his last fight, Lee Selby said he was looking forward to spending Christmas with his family for the first time in a few years.

The IBF world featherweight champion spent previous years at training camps due to having fights soon after Christmas.

Last year he was in Fuerteventura, away from his partner and their three daughters.

"I missed them but it's the price you have to pay," he said. "I'm used to making sacrifices to be the best."

Selby, 30, beat Eduardo Ramirez on 9 December and will not have another fight until April or May next year.

"I've given myself the rest of December off," he said. "I'm not training, I'm eating whatever I want and gaining weight."

In previous years Selby said he would have been dieting to make sure he makes his weight category, which is nine stone (57.2 kg).

"Basically you can't eat anything that tastes good," he said.

"I usually let myself have a small Christmas dinner, because it's mostly meat and vegetables."

Selby said he will get back on his strict diet on 1 January and resume training six days a week.


Image copyright Stu Forster/Getty Images
Image caption Rob Evans in action for Wales during the Autumn internationals

The rugby player

Scarlets and Wales prop Rob Evans has no less than three Welsh derbies to play over the festive period - but will still make time to catch up with friends and family.

The 25-year-old said the Boxing Day game against the Ospreys is "the biggest of the year".

The Scarlets also face the Cardiff Blues on New Years Eve ahead of the Dragons on 5 January.

"We're top of our conference, and when you're top of the tree everyone wants to knock you down," he said.

Image copyright Stu Forster/Getty Images
Image caption The west Wales derby against the Ospreys is the "biggest game of the year"

Evans will be spending Christmas Day with family and, while he will allow himself "a tiny piece of Christmas pudding", alcohol is strictly off limits.

After the Ospreys game he plans to "head back west and have a few drinks with friends".

Evans said because there were so many fixtures, training is scaled back between Christmas and New Year with just "team runs" to go through.

He said he was no stranger to the festive derbies having done them "a few times".

"You always get up for the first one, but then they get harder as you pick up a few knocks. The Blues are very physical and the Dragons are always tough opponents."

Evans, who was sidelined earlier this year due to concussion concerns, said despite "picking up a few little niggles" in the Autumn tests, he was fit and "really looking forward to playing over Christmas".


Image copyright Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Image caption Sean Bowen (in yellow) is the son of Pembrokeshire-based horse trainers Peter and Karen Bowen

The jockey

For Sean Bowen, Christmas is the busiest time of the year.

Apart from Cheltenham and Aintree, he said Boxing Day is the "main day in the racing calendar".

"There are seven or eight meetings... that would happen no other time of the year."

Bowen, 20, is due to race on Boxing Day, but will not find out which horse he is riding or where he will be competing until two days before.

"We get Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off," he said, "but I'll still ride out at my dad's stables on Christmas morning.

Image copyright Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Image caption Bowen said he wants to be a champion jockey and ride winners for his family

Bowen weighs 9st 5lb (59.4kg) but admitted he was "one of the lucky ones" in that he can eat as much Christmas dinner as he wants without having to worry about gaining weight.

"My younger brother James (also a jockey) is different and he'll have to watch everything he eats.

"Alcohol is a definite no no," he added, as jockeys are breathalysed before they race.

Bowen said he rides every day and the job involves extensive travel.

"I travelled three hours to race today, and that's quite a short journey for me," he said, adding his car had done 65,000 miles last year.

"I love it though... it's one of those jobs you have to love to do it."


Image copyright Christie Williams
Image caption Christie Williams will swap Aberdare for Australia when she competes in the Commonwealth Games on 6 April

The weightlifter

Sprinter turned weightlifter Christie Williams will celebrate Christmas knowing she has secured a place in Team Wales for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

She represented her country in the 58kg category just 18 months after taking up the sport, and despite studying in university and working part-time, she still manages to train five or six days a week.

"To be a good weightlifter you have to be dedicated to your training," she said, with Christmas being no exception.

Williams, 25, has been plagued with injury this year and currently has two herniated discs in her spine, which only allows for basic training, but she hopes to be back lifting in the new year.

Image copyright Team Wales
Image caption Williams lifting at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games

She will be spending Christmas Day with her family, but has to watch what she eats due to her weight category, and will be back in the gym on Boxing Day.

"I usually sit around 60-61kg," she said, "so from January I will be clean eating 100%, with meal prepping and calorie counting".

"It can be difficult when you've got friends or fellow weightlifters who don't have to make weight, who can just eat and drink what they want.

"You have to be very disciplined, but it's 100% worth it."

Williams said her aim is to get fit and medal at the Commonwealth Games.

"There's no way I'm coming back empty handed," she said.


Image copyright Respect the ref campaign
Image caption Missing Christmas is "the price you pay for the privilege" of refereeing

The referee

Nigel Owens is due to take charge of Munster v Leinster on Boxing Day, but has to fly out to Limerick on Christmas Eve due to "there being no suitable flights on Boxing Day".

He thought he would spend Christmas Day in a hotel alone, but has been invited to Christmas dinner by fellow referee John Lacey.

Owens said he has been away for Christmas for the last three or four years, but it was "all part of the job".

"People say to me 'you've got a good life on you', but you do miss out on a lot of family time.

"I'm not too disappointed... It's the price you pay for the privilege. I've got about three of four years left refereeing, so I'm going to enjoy it while I can."

Owens said he was a fan of the festive derbies, despite having to work them.

"Players love them," he said, "and people who come home to see their families often go to the rugby together.

"There is always more bite and intensity compared to games at any other time of the year, and they are always more difficult to referee."

Owens said he had Christmas with his dad and partner on 23 December, and was looking forward to watching Pontyberem play Tumble in the new year.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Owens has been refereeing rugby for 30 years

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