5 Live’s athletics correspondant Mike Costello meets James Dasaolu and Adam Gemili, the British sprinters set to become household names…
Dasaolu is heading onto the track at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow this weekend as Britain’s highest-ranked sprinter since Linford Christie was winning global gold medals two decades ago. At the British trials in Birmingham last month, Dasaolu clocked 9.91 seconds to win his semi-final in the 100 metres. Only Christie now stands above him in the domestic all-time rankings.
“Linford’s always been my role model,” says Dasaolu. “He’s the greatest sprinter this country’s ever seen. He’s done everything.”
The time 25-year-old Dasaolu recorded at the trials would have won gold at the last world championships in Daegu, South Korea, two years ago. It marks him out as a medal contender this time in Moscow, if his body holds firm.
He withdrew from the final at the trials and then pulled out of the recent Anniversary Games at London’s Olympic Stadium because of injuries. His apparent fragility is a cause for concern. “He gets injured when he steps out of bed and for no reason,” was the withering assessment of the former head coach of British Athletics, Charles van Commenee.
Dasaolu, in response, says he is learning to manage the stress levels on body and mind. He was born in London to Nigerian parents; his back- ground in athletics is unusual in that it includes little form at schoolboy and junior level. “My parents pushed me down an educational path so I spent a lot of time studying and reading books.”
He took up running seriously at the age of 18, soon after London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics. As analysts ponder the definition of Olympic legacy, Dasaolu belongs to the generation inspired from the outset.
“When London was awarded the Games, that was the draw for me. I’ve always been fast. Growing up in school, I used to win on sports days and the 100 metres was some- thing I knew I could be good at.”
He joined the Croydon Harriers club in south London and his natural talent was soon evident. “He’s the one, he’s rapid,” said Kelly Sotherton, the Olympic heptathlon bronze medallist, in a BBC Radio 5 Live programme long before Dasaolu had made any imprint at elite level.
Last year, he reached the semi-finals at London 2012 and five months ago he won his first international medal, a silver at the European Indoor championships in Gothenburg.
The recent drugs scandals involving the American Tyson Gay and Jamaica’s Asafa Powell left another stain on the credibility of his event, while boosting his own chances of success – he’s now ranked third among the 100m entries.
“It’s never good to see, but in Britain we’ve got a really good educational programme in terms of keeping athletes informed of what they should be taking.”
Dasaolu now lives and trains in Loughborough, Leicestershire, at the High Performance Centre run by British Athletics. But as he prepares to fly on from the Spanish training camp to Moscow, he has more than one show- down on his mind. A potential meeting with sprint king Usain Bolt can wait. Beating Mo Farah is the top priority.
They may compete at opposite ends of the distance spectrum, but on their games consoles, they are set to become fierce rivals: “I hear Mo’s really good at [PlayStation game] FIFA, so I’m looking forward to competing against him – if he accepts my challenge, of course.
“There’s a number of athletes love to play computer games. I’m a big gamer so when I’m away from the track I’ll either be playing computer games or watching movies, to take my mind off the job in hand and relax. The pre-Games holding camp is just as exciting for me as competing at the championships!”
Usain Bolt has often spoken of playing for Manchester United one day, but Adam Gemili has left behind professional football to join the fastest men on the planet. After spending time at Chelsea, Reading and Dagenham and Redbridge, Gemili is moving up through the leagues of sprinting and has been measured up for a British team vest in the 200 metres in Moscow (heats start on Friday).
The 19-year-old from Dartford in Kent switched to athletics full-time in January of last year and within seven months had been crowned world junior champion and reached the semi-finals at London 2012. “You couldn’t have written what’s happened to me,” he says. “In the food court at the Olympic Village, you’ve got all these athletes in there. Usain Bolt would walk past and say, ‘All right’! Serena Williams walked past me and I was like, ‘This is crazy.’ I was having lunch with the biggest stars in sport.”
When he was 15, passion gave way to pragmatism for Gemili. His parents – his mum, Sacha, still acts as his manager – were concerned that the travel time to and from training at Chelsea’s youth academy was affecting his GCSE studies. After a less taxing year at Reading, he moved to Dagenham and Redbridge, where he was able to mix football and athletics.
But the pivotal moment in his sporting life came in December 2011. “I was offered my first professional contract [by Dagenham] and if I signed it, obviously it meant I had to stop athletics because I couldn’t do both. I decided to devote the next year to athletics and if it didn’t work out, I could still go back to football.” His commitment to football is now limited to watching matches on TV with his Moroccan-born father.
The compromise to be reached now is between athletics and his sports science degree course at the University of East London, where he’s just completed the first year. “On my busiest day I get up at 5.30am. I’m at the track at seven, then go for a gym session before driving to uni for a two-hour lecture. Then it’s lunch and another lecture and maybe a seminar before driving home again. Then I go for another gym session, maybe a swim. And I have to eat at some points in all that.
“When you train and do a heavy session, you just want to sleep for a million hours. You’re hungry and tired and you’ve got to do it week in, week out. It does take it out of you, it’s intense, but it’s what I want.”
Gemili’s rapid progress, while still in the novice stages of his development, has impressed seasoned observers, among them Darren Campbell, who won silver in the Olympic 200 metres in 2000 and relay gold in Athens four years later. “I wouldn’t put any limits on what Adam can achieve,” says Campbell.
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