Schoolgirl sprinter Nell Desir could make Wales' Commonwealth Games team in Birmingham aged just 14. Pic: Owen Morgan

Schoolgirl Sprint Sensation Nell Desir Has World At Her Feet And Commonwealth Games In Her Sights

By Owen Morgan

At the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, Wales’ team included 11-year-old table tennis wonderkid Anna Hursey. Now Owen Morgan meets the 12-year-old Cardiff schoolgirl, Nell Desir, who has been ripping up the record books on the track and could be part of the Welsh team in Birmingham 2022.

Cardiff schoolgirl Nell Desir is one of the fastest young sprinters in the world.

The Cardiff Archer boasts the second-fastest time ever by an under-12 athlete over 60m and has posted half-a-dozen of the fastest European age-grade times recorded.

Earlier this year, Nell broke the Welsh under-13 100m record when she clocked 12.34 at a meeting in Worthing.

The time means the 12-year-old is the fastest athlete over 100m in her age group throughout the United Kingdom this year.

The previous Welsh under-13 record of 12.6 was set in 2010 by Swansea Harrier Hannah Brier, who went on to represent Wales at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games at the age of 16.

The young Cardiff athlete is keen to emulate Brier’s achievement at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, when she would be just 14-years-old.

Nell Desir has been racing against athletes several years her senior. Pic: Owen Morgan

But for now the main aim is to ensure the youngster carries on progressing and above all enjoying the sport.

Following Nell’s latest performance – clocking a blistering wind-assisted 12.07 over 100m in Cardiff earlier this month – her mum Ceri, said: “Nell’s looking at 2022, but that might be pushing it a bit. She’s only 12 now, so she’ll be 14 then.

“We’ll see. If not, maybe the next one after that. We’re just letting her run and enjoy it. She enjoys training and we’re taking every season as it comes.

“She’s top of the rankings and beating most of the under-15s in the UK and she’s still only an under-13 athlete.

“There’s a long way to go, but fingers crossed. As long as she keeps enjoying it.”

Despite her tender years, Nell’s performances have seen her amass countless, age-grade best times, titles and accolades.

The youngster boasts a plethora of European fastest times between the ages of nine-years-old and 12, across a range of distances from 60m to 200m.

Anna Hursey was just 11 when she competed for Wales at the 2016 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.Pic: Getty Images.

Ceri says: “She’s got six European number one times and she is second in the world at under-12 level over 60m. She’s up there with the likes of Daphne Schippers on that list which is really good.”

The mention of her name in the same sentence as the 2015 and 2017 200m world champion and four-time European Champion makes the youngster giggle and she looks a little embarrassed.

But asked whether she would also like to emulate the likes of Schippers, Nell says: “I’m just hoping to keep it up as I get older because I’m doing well at the moment. I’m hoping to be a professional athlete.”

Ceri adds: “She’s very relaxed about it really because she’s young. She really enjoys it and she’s doing so well, every season she surprises us.”

Having taken up athletics with Cardiff Archers, Nell was spotted two-and-a-half years ago by the Christian Malcolm Sports Academy – which takes its name from the Welsh sprinting legend who is still officially Wales’ fastest man over 100m.

Malcolm represented Great Britain at the Olympics and World Athletics Championships and Wales at the Commonwealth games with medal-winning distinction.

Following his retirement, Malcolm has established himself as one of the world’s top coaches and is set to take up the role as head coach of UK Athletics at the end of next month following a successful stint with Athletics Australia.

Former GB junior sprint and long jump international Lisa Waddon, who set up the academy with Malcolm, is Nell’s coach.

Waddon recalls the first time she saw the young sprinter in action at one of the development days held by the academy.

Welsh sprint legend Christian Malcolm and incoming UK Athletics Performance head knows all about Nell’s performances. Pic: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

“She stood out as soon as we saw her,” said Waddon. “Cardiff Archers had done a great job with Nell before we came to her.

“They do the multi-sport side of things, so she was good all round. She had been developed really well. The Archers are a fantastic organisation.

“She had been with them since she was a dwt, but what our academy offers is that we are all ex-British international athletes.

“The young kids don’t usually have access to that, it’s the older kids that get access to your coaches who have been around and tried and tested.

“It gives the kids access to coaches they wouldn’t normally get access to at such a young age, instilling the fundamentals.

“So we picked Nell up, stripped her right back and she is flying, she’s doing great.”

The most exciting aspect about Nell’s progression is the potential for so much more to come, says Waddon, who is herself a past winner of the Welsh Junior Sports Personality of the Year Award.

“Technically, she is a lovely runner. She’s still got lots to learn. We haven’t added the layers on yet and that’s what makes it exciting, she’s still only a baby, she’s still only 12.

Nell started out with Cardiff Archers club. Pic: Owen Morgan

“It’s a case of nurturing her, making sure she enjoys the sport and when she gets all the basics right, that’s when we add all the layers and that’s when it gets really exciting.

“It’s just about making sure Nell fills her potential, that she is the best that she can be. That’s the idea at the academy. With the quality of coaching we supply, it’s getting all the fundamentals right.

“Also keeping her happy and enjoying the sport, so when she gets to 13, 14, 15, 16, when there is a big drop out in sport, that she is still progressing and we are still adding the layers, all the different sessions in, and then she progresses even further.

“It’s a case of not over-cooking her when she is too young. Training her like a 12-year-old and not a world class athlete.

“Her training group is a mix of 12, 13, 14 year olds, so she’s got a great training group around her. She loves coming training because she is part of that. It’s not just about the coaching, it’s who you are surrounding her with as well.”

One of the difficulties of coaching such a prodigious young talent is remembering just how young she is, especially when she routinely beats athletes far older than she is.

Covid-19 restrictions at athletics meetings this summer have meant races have been seeded by times rather than age groups, which means Nell has been running against male and female opposition of all ages.

Waddon says the youngster has taken everything in her stride and even benefited from the experience.

“She has a fantastic mindset, she wants to go out and be world class, she wants to go out and beat everybody. It’s difficult to run her in her age group when she is so quick.

“So when we have gone to competitions, due to Covid the line-ups go on times. So it’s worked well for her, she’s going into races where she’s not necessarily the quickest.

“She’s having to come fourth, but she’s able to get these fantastic times because she is pushed all the way to the line. Whereas if you run her as an under-13, which is her age group, she is going to win by 10 metres and that’s not what you want.

Hannah Brier set previous Wales under13 record and competed at the Commonwealth Games aged 16. Pic: Owen Morgan


“You want her to go in, and be nervous, and know that she has got to fight for it, not that it it’s a given.

“So that’s one of the good things about the awful thing that is going on at the moment, all the races she has gone into are based on times. At the weekend, she came fourth, but still clocked a fantastic time.

“And with Nell, she’s happy to come fourth because she understands she is the youngest in that race, she understands that she’s just got to go out and execute her race the way we train her.

“That’s one of the things about Nell as well, we talk about keeping her feet on the ground and training her like a 12-year-old, but you are also going through things with her that because of how fast she is, because she executes her race so well, you wouldn’t normally talk to a 12-year-old about.

“About how she’s got to execute her first five steps and about lifting her knees towards the end, whereas normally at 12, the gun goes and you just run as quick as you can.

“But she is very developed in the way that she understands her race and how to run it, which is exciting. Even at 12, she is really exciting to watch.”

Nell’s times on a par with Dutch sprint sensation Daphne Schippers at a similar age

Waddon believes it’s possible her young charge could earn a place in the Welsh women’s team at the 2022 Commonwealth Games despite her age.
“It’s not unachievable for her. Like you say, she will only be 14 but she tells me she would like a relay spot.

“You have to be top four or top six to get a relay spot, so it’s not unachievable for her to go for a relay spot. It’s in Birmingham, so they will take a full team you would think.”

On this year’s form, Nell has the fifth fastest 100m time of any female sprinter in Wales. However, a number of the country’s top sprinters have either not raced or only participated in a limited season due to Covid-19.

Despite currently being based in Australia, Malcolm has been keeping a close eye on Nell’s progress, says Waddon.

“Christian and I discuss Nell often, and it’s about taking the pressure off her which is difficult. She has the mindset of a winner and wants to go out and race everybody.

“She knows what she wants. She’s not frightened of anybody. She gets excited when you tell her who the line-up is in a race. She doesn’t shy away from anything. So it’s about keeping her feet on the floor.

“The way we are at the moment, she is still on basics, we’re working on knee-lift, the basics of her race. She’s not in the gym or doing any work like that because she is far too young but it’s a case of there being so many layers to still add to Nell.

“We have got so much still to do with Nell which is why it’s so exciting for her.”

The priority is to ensure the all-time British under-13 200m indoor record holder is happy and enjoying herself, which will in turn help to bring further success.

“It’s just keeping her happy in the sport,” says Waddon. “If she enjoys it she will run and she will run quick. If we can keep the pressure off her, she is training well, and she’s got the consistency with training, she will do great.

“It’s keeping all that going and keeping her injury free because as youngsters get older they get niggles. But if we keep her happy and healthy she will do well.

“She is so grounded, she’s so relaxed and she’s so happy. She’s a real positive influence amongst the academy.

“We have a talented squad of middle distance runners and sprinters and some of our kids are as young as nine. Nell creates a real buzz around the WhatsApp groups when she’s running, that whole communication thing.

“The youngsters really look up to Nell and she’s a great role model to them with her attitude. All in all she’s a winner.

“It’s just making sure we keep her happy and healthy within the sport and we keep progressing over the next couple of years.”

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