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Gemili the fastest learner in the Olympic heartland

Britain's latest sprint sensation is now studying at university in Stratford and is reminded every day of his race with Bolt and Co

Barely two months since he was racing against Yohan Blake and Tyson Gay in the semi-final of the Olympic 100m, Adam Gemili was back in Stratford last week.

Britain's newest sprint star missed out on the chance to take on Usain Bolt in the final at London 2012 by just 0.04sec at the end of an astonishing first season in athletics. But just a few minutes' stroll from the Olympic Stadium, Gemili – who turned 19 on Saturday – has embarked on a new challenge after starting a course in sports and exercise science with human biology at the University of East London.

"It's very strange going to Stratford every day and thinking to myself, 'I was running there just a few weeks ago'," he said. "The Olympics just seems like a dream now. The area has so many good memories for me so it's nice to have a reminder of that all the time."

This time last year, the Dartford-born Gemili was playing football for Blue Square Bet South side Thurrock after being sent there on loan by Dagenham & Redbridge. A former member of Chelsea's youth set-up, he hoped to secure a professional deal and carve out a career as a right-back in League Two.

A discussion with coach Michael Afilaka just before Christmas persuaded Gemili to swap his boots for spikes in January. The results were devastating as four months' full-time training saw him post a time of 10.08sec in a low-key meeting in Germany to smash his previous personal best, set in winning the silver medal at the 2011 European Junior Championships.

That was followed by gold in a championship-record time of 10.05 at July's World Juniors in Barcelona – a performance that brought him to the attention of Gay. Yet despite almost beating that time in his Olympic semi-final as he came third, he cannot help but reflect on what might have been.

"Just to make the team was the best experience for me – I wasn't going there looking to do anything special. But after the race I realised I could have made the final," Gemili said. "After the time I had run in the first round after making such a bad start...I don't want to say I'm disappointed because the Olympics were amazing, but I know I could have actually done it. It just wasn't to be, I suppose."

Gemili has spent the past few weeks sampling the Diamond League meetings alongside Bolt and Co, so it's no surprise he has set himself such lofty standards. A memorable lunch with the Jamaican in Zurich at the end of August gave him an opportunity to pick up some advice, though he laughs off any suggestions that Bolt could ever feel uneasy about the emergence of a new generation of sprinters ahead of Rio 2016.

"I don't think he's threatened by anyone," he said. "He was sat next to me having lunch on the day of the race in Zurich – it was good fun. We were talking and he said well done for winning the juniors and getting to the Olympics. He told me to keep working hard and things will happen. But he also told me to be patient because it isn't always easy.

"In this sport you've got to have a lot of confidence in your own ability," he added. "You can't go into a race and think, 'Oh man, I've got no chance of winning this'. Racing at the Olympics made me realise that they are just normal guys who do everything that I do to prepare for a race. Now I feel like I belong there and it can be done. That's so important for my confidence."

Some impressive end-of-season times in the 200m – an event Gemili has only attempted on a handful of occasions – also bodes well for the future. Balancing a first full winter of training under the watchful eye of Afilaka with his university studies should also prepare him for the challenges that lie ahead next year, including the World Championships in Moscow in August.

"I had a meeting with my coach this week to look over the season and reflect on how everything went," he said. "I know there's still lots I can do to improve so we will be working hard on that over the winter. The uni are being great – they are really flexible and have tried to do everything they can to help me fit everything in. It's nice to think I haven't had a full year of training in the sport. After a full winter getting ready, I can't wait to see what I can do next year."