How do you feel about Olympic omens? If you’re rising British sprint star Adam Gemili, the 18-year-old who only took up professional running seven months ago, you must be feeling pretty good. On Wednesday night, the phenom obliterated his competition in the final of the 100m World Junior Championships, winning in a stunning time of 10.05 seconds, not just making him the quickest British junior ever but posting the second fastest time by any European sprinter this year (Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre ran 10.04 in Rome in May). It’s all becoming old hat for Gemili, who had already run 10.08 this year, which is comfortably inside the qualification mark of 10.18 required to meet the ‘A’ standard of an Olympic Games.
And as for that omen, well, Gemili’s victory came in Barcelona’s Montjuic Stadium, the location where Britain’s Linford Christie won Olympic gold 20 years ago (it’s worth noting that Gemili hadn’t even been born). But whereas Christie had a traditional career trajectory, which peaked in Barcelona ’92 — four years earlier, he was part of a shocked field who witnessed Ben Johnson cheat his way to gold in Seoul — Gemili’s road (or rather, track) has been anything but predictable.
As unbelievable as it may sound, as recently as November of last year, the teenager was playing lower-league soccer on loan for the unheralded Thurrock. He had been a trainee at top-flight club Chelsea but his soccer career appeared headed in a downward direction. And so he turned to full-time training at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre in October and the results have been nothing short of staggering. His stellar results this year put him on many people’s radars, but some thought he would give London 2012 a miss and concentrate on the World Junior Championships instead. His coach, Michael Afilaka, was concerned that his star student might not be mentally ready for the Games, but Gemili seemed to put that suggestion to bed when telling the BBC that, “My plan is to go to the Olympics and compete with the world’s top sprinters and not get beaten too badly.”
If anything, it’s his peers who should be worried about getting beaten too badly by Gemili. He’s already reached the top of the British rankings and seems to have a humble head on such young shoulders. “It’s a massive stepping stone,” said Gemili of his Junior gold. “Just making the final was an achievement but the fact I made the won is so amazing. It’s going to help me a lot at the Olympics.”
What might be a realistic aim for Gemili? It would be sheer folly to suggest that he’s a potential medal prospect for the host nation, with the likes of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Tyson Gay, Justin Gatlin, Asafa Powell and a whole host of others comfortably considered more likely winners (you can still get odds of 350/1 on Gemili winning gold at one betting exchange). And while 10.05 is a time to be proud of, it’s still in a different zip code to Bolt’s world record of 9.58. Yet if Gemili were able to become only the fourth British man to run under 10 seconds at the Olympics, it would almost be akin to stepping onto that podium. “Who knows?” he said. “All I know is that I feel good and I feel there is a lot more to come.”
It must be pointed out that the previous British winners of the World Junior Championships — Christian Malcolm, Mark Lewis-Francis and Harry Aikines-Areetey – didn’t exactly set the sprinting world alight after making the transition to the senior circuit (Lewis-Francis, in particular, never fulfilled his incredible potential). But so long as Gemili continues to improve and doesn’t get caught up in the ever-increasing hype, he should be able to look back one day on his junior success paving the way for future medals.