British Bronze at 17: Get to know Jeremiah Azu

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Jeremiah Azu on his way to winning the 200m title at the England Athletics Age Group Championships.

“Some athletes never even get the chance to say they’ve competed at these kinds of events and against these athletes, and I’m winning medals at them. It bodes well for the future of British sprinting.”

From British indoor bronze, to setting up blocks next to Su Bingtian, what can we say, 17-year-old Jeremiah Azu has had a pretty epic indoor season. Competing against the likes of Asia’s fastest man, Michael Rogers and Reece Prescod, we were interested to get his thoughts on his performances in 2019. So get comfy, here goes…

Taking a look at Powerof10, you’d think Jeremiah had appeared out of thin air, running a modest 12.28 for the 100m back in 2015. But, in 2016, his time dramatically dropped to 11.08 in his first year as an U17. The following year, 2017, he was running an impressive 10.65.

With numerous Welsh championship medals under his belt, the teenager has shot up the rankings in a very short space of time. At the end of the 2018 season, he finished in 8th on the UK rankings for the 100m in his first year as an U20, with World Junior 200m champion, Jona Efoloko, just two places above.

Based in Cardiff, it’s evident Jeremiah has his athletics-life balance in check. His quick rise up the ladder in athletics is thanks to his strong footballing background, as he explains;

“I’ve always played football. I was good but I’ve always been better at athletics. I actually only stopped playing football last year due to training demands”.

He tells us he studies full time at college and trains around 4/5 times a week. His group includes the likes of Welsh junior 60m champion, Emmanuella Kone, and is headed up by Helen Patricia James, who has nurtured him and been his one and only coach in athletics.

“I just really like her as a coach. She understands me. We understand each other. If she tells me to do something, I know exactly what she means and what I’m supposed to do. We work really well together”

The teenager speaks very fondly of his coach and training group, and it’s easy to see why he’s thriving in the sport at the moment. But like any college student, he’s at an important time in his life as the university process creeps closer and closer. He goes on to tell us he’s looking to study Sports Performance at the University of Bath, as it’s still relatively close to Cardiff.

“They have a good set up there. The thought of moving away to Bath and leaving her (Helen) is a bit sad, but I’ve already said I’m going to come back and visit”.

With a solid winter under his belt, his 6.73 season opener at Cardiff GP took him by surprise.

“I always surprise myself with the first run out, as you just don’t really know what level you’re at”. 

With a lifetime best already in 2019, it was the Welsh Championships the following week, where he finished in 3rd last year. But, his championships didn’t exactly go to plan. Speaking of his disqualification in the 60m final, the junior athlete explains the situation with an admirable sense of maturity and wisdom.

“Oh my. The Welsh Champs. Well, I did the heats and they were all good and then obviously in the final I was DQd. Looking back, I know I shouldn’t have acted that way, but the first time we got called back I didn’t really understand why we had been, so I was already quite annoyed. So, the second time around I guess I was just anxious and went before the gun.

He goes on to say how he’s thankful for his mistake, and speaks in a way which embraces both his successes and failures, something which is usually very difficult to master even at senior level.

“The thing that I’ve learned is just to know that no matter what, I have to stay calm. It was a massive learning curve for me and I don’t think my indoor season would have gone the way it has without it. So I’m glad that it happened. I think I needed that to happen in my 60m, for me to learn that.”

With barely enough time to collect his thoughts, SPAR British Indoors Championships came around the week later. Jeremiah was by far the youngest in the field and ran a big personal best of 6.66, to come away with a bronze medal, with 19-year-old Dominic Ashwell taking the gold.

In his heat at the SPAR British Athletics Indoor Championships. Photo: Melissa Gresswell.

“Oh gosh. My aim was literally just to make the final. And you know what, I can’t really remember what I was thinking going into the final and waiting in the call up room. Like I can’t remember anything. But, I do remember one thought. I was thinking, you know what, there’s no reason why I can’t win this. Anything can happen. So in the race, at like 40m, I was like wow, I’m actually up here with these guys. Then Dom began to pull away, but I was right there with them”.

He took a second or two to compose himself then says:

That and Birmingham Grand Prix were the highlights of my season”.

Speaking of the Grand Prix, where Jeremiah finished in 7th in the final in a world-class field, he told us that all he wanted to do was finish at the top of his heat. He was placed in the second heat, with Michael Rogers, Reece Prescod and Ojie Edoburun, with Su Bingtian in the first heat.

“I knew the likes of Bingtain were out there on their own in the first heat, I just knew I had to be up there in my heat. When I crossed the line, we were all waiting, staring at the big screen, and when I saw my name I just burst in to tears.”

He finished in 4th in his heat, running a PB of 6.65, and only 0.08 from Prescod and Rogers who crossed the line in the same time.

“I just give so much thanks to God, my family, my coach. It was very emotional.”

With junior athletes like Dominic Ashwell, and Jeremiah himself earning their place on the podium at major domestic championships like this, we asked him his thoughts as a junior.

“It’s amazing because in 5 years’ time, that’s going to be us, so it bodes well for the future of British sprinting if we’re doing these kinds of performances now. Some people never even get the chance to say they’ve competed at these kinds of events and against these athletes, and I’m winning medals at them, it’s great for the 60m for the future.”

His indoor confidence and level-headedness continued into the England Athletics Age Group Championships in Sheffield, where he won double gold in the 60m and 200m.

After winning double gold at the Age Group Championships. Photo: MV4R Photography.

“Coach told me at the start of the season that she wanted me to do a 200. I was up for it, but going in to the champs I was quite tired. I’ve been competing none stop for the past few weeks, and I’m getting through it, but it’s been a real struggle you know. Obviously, I knew I was fastest going into the championships but I didn’t want to think that the title was then just mine, I wanted to compose myself and be in the right mindset.

He clocked 22.26 in the first round of the 200m, expressing that the heat time was relatively slow. But, in the semi-final, he knew he had to get out hard.

“In my semi I went out hard and treated it like a final, so I’d get a good lane for the final later. When I crossed the line, I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock.”

He stopped the clock at 21.35, 0.4 seconds quicker than his previous best set last June. In the final, he shaved even more off his lifetime best, clocking 21.25.

“Again, I think doing those 200ms have been another highlight of my season. Just running those times for the 200m indoor sets me up really well for the 100m outdoor”.

With the curtains closing on his stunning indoor season, and his final competition being the Welsh International this weekend, he looks towards the outdoor.

“I want to be European gold medallist. That’s the goal. And if I accomplish that, I actually will be happy with myself. Just saying it”.

The U20 European Championships take place in Sweden this July, and with the qualifying times already secured, he’ll just have to ensure he stays fit and healthy and on top form at the domestic championships.

“If I even want to win Euro U20s, I’ll need to win the outdoor champs for my age group. I’m not sure if I’ll do the Senior champs as it’s so late in the year, but we’ll see.”

Jeremiah is just another example of outstanding junior talent we’re producing in Britain at the moment, and like Trezeguet Taylor, it seems to be his pure enjoyment for the sport and natural talent that have got him where he is today.

He sure is putting Cardiff clearly on the map.