By Owen Morgan
Welsh stars Melissa Courtney-Bryant, Jeremiah Azu and Joe Brier are heading to next month’s European Indoor Athletics Championships in Turkey.
All three have stories to tell behind their selection, with Courtney-Bryant continuing her return to full fitness after lengthy injuries and Brier recently completing his Masters.
But it is perhaps Azu who has seen the most radical change to his life over the past few months.
The 21-year-old relocated to Italy last autumn where he is part of coach Marco Ariale’s training group alongside the likes of fellow GB internationals Daryll Neita, Reece Prescod and Adam Gemili.
Despite the upheaval of moving from his close-knit, church-going family in Cardiff, Azu is starting to reap the rewards of la dolce vita.
Life in Italy and the new training regime has taken some getting used to.
“I grew up in a church. It’s just so much part of my life,” said Azu before last weekend’s UK Athletics Indoor Championships in Birmingham, where he won a silver medal just behind Prescod in the 60m.
“Sometimes you think ‘this is the first day of athletics for me’ and like ‘I haven’t actually been doing athletics until now’. I’ve been learning the basics all over again.
“I think the more you try to force something, the harder it is and the more it’s going to run away from you. You have to let things happen naturally.
“When you’ve joined into something new or starting a new programme, things take time.”
After bursting onto the wider athletics scene by winning the British 100m title last summer, Azu went from strength to strength later in the season.
Despite an injury meaning he failed to take his place in the GB 4×100 relay squad at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, Azu bounced back in the red vest of Wales at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham where he finished fifth in the 100m final.
There was better to come at the European Athletics Championships in Munich as he continued his return to fitness.
An individual bronze medal and a gold in the 4x100m relay in Germany, secured his place on the international stage.
Last week’s UK Indoor Athletics Championships saw him picked out for a two-page spread in the event programme – an indication of his growing profile.
In the article, Azu said he instantly felt at home on the big stage in Munich.
“Most people when they tell me about them being in a final, they make it this really big spectacle and that there’s so much tension.
“But for me, before the race I was just really enjoying myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel nervous but I didn’t feel fear.
👏 Congratulations to Melissa Courtney-Bryant, Jeremiah Azu and Joe Brier on their GB selection for the European Indoor Championships in Istanbul! 🇬🇧
Llongyfarchiadau i chyd gyd! 🏴
📷 Owen Morgan @julie.fust @stadion_actu pic.twitter.com/RqWmJPMdaU
— Welsh Athletics (@WelshAthletics) February 22, 2023
“I was just enjoying it, hearing the crowd scream. A feeling like that, I kinda crave it. I didn’t feel like I was out of my depth. For that whole championships it just felt like ‘this is my time, I’ve earned it.”
The 2021 European under-23 100m champion, who was coached in Cardiff by Helen James, ‘earned it’ by making the transition from outstanding junior to a medal winner in a senior international championship.
“I think I’ve been thrown in at the deep end a bit,” said Azu when discussing the step up from juniors to seniors.
“But I think I’m coping with it well. Obviously, you get a lot of juniors that don’t really make it through to the senior ranks so to pick up a European medal brings confidence.
“I think I’m slowly learning how to win. It’s easy to win as a junior, but winning as a senior is a completely different thing.”
Azu’s busy indoor season continues this weekend as he returns to Birmingham to compete in the 60m at the high-profile World Indoor Tour Final alongside fellow Cardiff sprinter Sam Gordon.
Meanwhile, a medal in Istanbul next month would be another step forward in Azu’s fast-track progression.
Courtney-Bryant and Brier will also have medal-winning ambitions in Istanbul, having previously enjoyed European success.
In 2019, Courtney-Bryant won a bronze medal over 3,000m behind Laura Muir at the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Glasgow.
However, a serious foot injury subsequently hampered her progress and saw her miss out on the chance of qualifying for the delayed 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Last summer saw her return to major competition at the Commonwealth Games and the European Athletics Championships.
The Poole athlete booked her place on the plane to Turkey last weekend with a brilliantly measured performance to win gold in Birmingham over 3,000m.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist said afterwards: “I would really love to medal again at the Europeans, but first I need to focus on getting into the final.
“I had an injury in 2021, so 2022 I was trying to come back from that. So, I was just trying to pick myself back up.
“But I’m really happy with how the winter season has gone and that’s all thanks to my training partner and coach.”
Brier also has happy memories of European competition. Last summer he helped the GB 4x400m squad to a gold medal winning performance at the European Athletics Championships in Munich.
Last weekend, Brier looked to be in good form at the UK Athletics Indoor Championships as he won his heat and semi-final in 47.46 and 47.00 respectively.
And he looked well-placed in the final as he took the bell in the lead, before dropping back through the field.
However, his overall performance, added to his track record as an Olympic and World Championship athlete, earned him a place on the GB 4×400 for Istanbul.
It’s been a busy time for Brier, who recently completed his Masters in Sports Broadcasting at Cardiff Met.
“I want to just keep running well and do the best I can and see where it goes. I’m feeling good so that’s the main thing,” said Brier.
“Training has been good, I recently finished my Master’s about three weeks ago. It’s been difficult but I enjoyed it.”
The full Great Britain and Northern Ireland team for the European Indoor Championships, Istanbul, Turkey (2-5 March):
60m: Daryll Neita (Marco Airale, Cambridge Harriers); Asha Philip (Amy Deem, Newham and Essex Beagles)
800m: Isabelle Boffey (Luke Gunn, Enfield & Haringey); Keely Hodgkinson (Trevor Painter, Leigh)
1500m: Ellie Baker (Jon Bigg, Shaftesbury Barnet); Laura Muir (Andy Young, Dundee Hawkhill); Katie Snowden (Stephen Haas, Herne Hill)
3000m: Melissa Courtney-Bryant (Rob Denmark, Poole): Hannah Nuttall (Helen Clitheroe, Charnwood)
Long Jump: Jazmin Sawyers (Aston Moore, City of Stoke)
High Jump: Morgan Lake (Robbie Grabarz, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow)
Pentathlon: Holly Mills (Laura Turner-Alleyne, Andover)
4x400m Relay: Mary Abichi (Lorna Boothe, Enfield & Haringey); Hannah Kelly (Les Hall, Bolton); Nicole Kendall (Richard Holt, Thames Valley); Carys McAulay (Nick Dakin, Trafford); Hayley McLean (Chris Zah, Shaftesbury Barnet)
60m: Eugene Amo-Dadzie (Steve Fudge, Woodford Green Essex Ladies); Jeremiah Azu (Marco Airale, Cardiff); Reece Prescod (Marco Airale, Enfield & Haringey)
800m: Guy Learmonth (Justin Rinaldi, Lasswade)
1500m: Neil Gourley (Stephen Haas, Giffnock North); George Mills (Thomas Dreißigacker, Brighton Phoenix)
3000m: Jack Rowe (Tim Eglen, Aldershot Farnham and District); James West (Helen Clitheroe, Tonbridge)
60m Hurdles: David King (Tim O’Neil, City of Plymouth)
4x400m Relay: Joe Brier (Matt Elias, Swansea); Lewis Davey (Trevor Painter, Newham and Essex Beagles); Ben Higgins (Stewart Marshall, Sheffield & Dearne); Samuel Reardon (Nigel Stickings, Blackheath & Bromley); Lee Thompson (John Henson, Sheffield & Dearne).
One thought on “Jeremiah Azu Is Livin’ The Dolce Vita . . . As Welsh Sprint Ace Thanks Italian Base For Euros Lift Off”