Athletics: Britain could strike Olympic gold with world's fastest 16-year-old

A British sprinter has just made history in Marrakesh. Mike Rowbottom talks to the schoolboy who is learning quickly
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The Independent Online

There is a new name in the reckoning as Britain looks expectantly towards the 2012 London Games. And in the time required to say it - Harry Aikines-Aryeetey - the proud owner is capable of covering a prodigious amount of ground.

Three days ago, this Carshalton schoolboy, born of Ghanaian parents, made history in Marrakesh as he became the first athlete to complete the 100m and 200m double at the World Youth Championships. Yesterday, having spent just over eight hours back home in Surrey, he was in Kaunas, Lithuania, where he is due to run in the sprint relay this weekend at the European Junior Championships.

Aikines-Aryeetey's excitement at his unexpected double triumph was evident in his voice. But as he prepared to settle into his hotel room, the world's fastest 16-year-old had more pressing matters to attend to.

"Now I'm going to sit down with my PlayStation and a few packets of Haribo," he said. "I've got four packets of them in my bag right now. I love them." The bag contained no trace of his other favourites, candyfloss and doughnuts - but only on the grounds that they didn't travel as well.

This athlete may be hugely talented, but he is in no particular hurry to become overly serious. While his sweet tooth is something already exercising the mind of his coach at the Sutton club, Matt Favier, Aikines-Aryeetey is determined to prevent his approach to sport becoming too intense. Given the number of talented young sprinters who have failed to make an impact at senior level that is a sensible ambition.

But then this is a sensible young man. He is studying for A levels in Biology, Sociology, Psychology and PE at Greenshaw High School, and has thoughts of doing a degree afterwards.

Those post-A level calculations could be profoundly influenced, however, by the alternative attraction of full-time athletics. If Aikines-Aryeetey - whose father, William, was an international sprinter who clocked 10.7 for the 100m - continues to improve at his current rate he is going to be very fast very soon.

Two years ago he ran 10.83sec, taking the place of Mark Lewis-Francis - a predecessor as World Youth 100m champion - as the fastest 14-year-old in Europe. And his winning times in Marrakesh, 10.35sec and 20.91sec, offer the prospect of heady achievements once he moves into the senior ranks.

But as even the prodigiously talented Lewis-Francis knows, that transition is not easy. Having been steered away from football, where he made an effective forward, by the man who guided his early career - Les Alder, who died last year - Aikines-Aryeetey is being guided carefully through each stage by those charged with his welfare, including UK Athletics.

He is not exactly backward in coming forward, however. After he had set his Under-14s record he decided to seek sponsorship by establishing his own website. "I wanted to try and build up my reputation," he said, adding with a chuckle: "You couldn't say it worked very well. We got one e-mail back, but I never read it."

Despite his natural confidence, he confesses that his triumphs in Marrakesh came as something of a surprise. "I was expecting to get a medal in the 100, but to win it and then get the 200m gold was a bit of a shock," he said. "It hasn't really sunk in yet, but I'm very happy.

"I felt confident in my heats and semi-final. I did 10.38 and 10.41 and I was just jogging. I thought I was on for something really fast in the final, but when I got there I realised I just had to concentrate on getting the right result. So I really went for it."

The heats of the 200m also left him feeling buoyantly confident, as he ran 21.45sec despite suffering the uncool mishap of breaking his sunglasses en route. But it takes a lot to put this sprinter out of his stride.

"There was a lot of talk at the World Youth Championships, especially from a few of the Americans," he said. "But we were cool with that. I like it when I am put under pressure like that."

During his eight hours at home, he found time to check on-line for pictures of the Championships. His search did not disappoint. "I saw a shot of me crossing the line and putting my hand up to the crowd," he said. "I couldn't even remember doing it."

Seeing is believing, however, and now Aikines-Aryeetey is looking to the Beijing Games and beyond. "I'll be 23 in 2012," he said. "That would be an ideal age to win a gold medal. I'm still peaking. There's still a lot more to come from me."

Aikines-Aryeetey. Remember the name. As if you could forget it.

o Marlon Devonish has secured his 200m run in next month's world championships by running a qualifying time of 20.55sec.

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