Schoolgirl sprinter who is in a class of her own

Jodie Williams is still doing her GCSEs – and breaking records at 100m and 200m
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The Independent Online

It has been a busy day for the sprinter who tops the European women's rankings at 200m, and who heads the British list this summer at 100m – ahead of Jessica Ennis, a world champion indoors and out, and Christine Ohuruogu, an Olympic champion. "I'm right in the middle of my GCSEs," Jodie Williams says. "I've already done the sciences and PE and English Lit. I've been revising today. I've done some French – ish. A bit of maths. Some history..." "You can tell us all about the Russian Revolution," her mother, Christine, interjects.

It is difficult to grasp that the teenager sitting discussing her young life and times – engagingly polite, bright and under parental supervision – has been upsetting the established order in the women's sprint world. Jodie Williams is only 16. She is a pupil of Queenswood School in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, where her joshing friends have started calling her legs "the money makers".

Running in the Loughborough International meeting a fortnight ago, Williams won the 200m in a stunning 22.79sec, breaking the European youth record held by the German Grit Breuer. In the under-17 age-group, only the American Marion Jones (22.58sec), Australian Raelene Boyle (22.74) and Chandra Cheeseborough (22.77), another US prodigy, have ever run faster. All three went on to win Olympic medals, as did Breuer.

Competing at the Inter Counties Championships in Bedford last Monday, Williams won the 100m in 11.24sec, breaking the 31-year-old British junior (under-20) record held since 1979 by Kathy Cook. It is the joint second-fastest time in Europe this year by a female sprinter of any age. All this on the back of a 2009 season in which the young girl from Welwyn Garden City, a member of the Herts Phoenix Club, won the 100m and 200m at the IAAF World Youth Championships at Bressanone in Italy.

Perhaps as important as her fast-developing speed is the fact that the "Whizz Kid" – as the headline on the cover of Athletics Weekly refers to her – happens to have a shrewd head on her shoulders. Asked where she wants to be in five years' time, Williams replies: "I keep my targets to this year. In five years' time, hopefully I'll still be in the sport and competing at a high level, going to the Olympics and things like that."

It is an answer that bodes well for her prospects of making the grade as a psychology student at university and also of making it as a speed merchant in the long run. British athletics does not have the best conversion rate for turning teenage female sprint prodigies into achievers at senior level. Many a potential world-beater has fallen by the wayside: Jane Parry, Amy Spencer, Vernicha James, Sarah Wilhelmy. There was Linsey Macdonald too. She peaked at 16, winning an Olympic bronze medal in the 4x400m relay in Moscow in 1980.

Williams's coach, Mike McFarlane, was a contemporary of Macdonald who enjoyed longer-lasting success. The European junior 200m champion in 1979, he was joint winner of the Commonwealth 200m title with Allan Wells in Brisbane in 1982 and was a member of Britain's silver medal-winning 4x100m relay team at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

"I think Mac's been through it all before," Williams reflects. "He knows you've got to be mentally strong. He won't tell me what he thinks I can achieve. We talk about what I want to achieve. He just sort of lets me take it on. I think that keeps me level- headed and not wanting to achieve more than I can. Also, I think a lot of junior sprinters compete at senior level too quickly. They're going to the Olympics at 16 and I think that's what leads them to burn out so quickly. So I think me competing at a junior level is quite an important thing at the moment – not competing at a senior level too quickly."

Despite soundings about joining the senior relay teams at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games, Williams's sole focus this summer is on the World Junior Championships next month at Moncton in Canada. She will still be a junior when the 2012 Olympics come round, although at 18 (and with more than the 18 months of three-times-a-week training she has behind her at present) the home Games would be an ideal step up into senior major championship competition – and a chance to catch up with the idol to whom she was introduced at Crystal Palace last August, the one-time youth prodigy Usain Bolt.

"I just stood there in shock," Williams recalls. "I didn't know what to say. His coach told him what I had achieved and he just said, 'Keep it going'." Which the Welwyn Garden Whizz Kid has been busy doing of late, in between the Trotsky and the trigonometry.