Jeremiah Azu

Jeremiah Azu. Pic: Getty Images

Wales’ Olympic Hopeful Jeremiah Azu Is Built For Calm As Well As Speed

sportswales

By Graham Thomas

If Jeremiah Azu makes the Olympic 100m final this summer, then he will find inner calm to settle any nerves.

On the track, Azu is Wales’ leading all-time sprinter, the first Welsh athlete to run 100m in under 10 seconds and an athlete now bidding to shake off a hamstring injury that forced him out of the current European Championships so he can make the Great Britain squad for Paris.

Off it, he insists his religious faith, his family upbringing and his rooted sense of community all give him a rock-solid foundation as firm as any set of starting blocks.

Azu is very much the modern day athlete with global influences. Born in the Netherlands to parents from Ghana, he moved to Cardiff when he was three-years-old, but currently lives in Italy as part of a four-strong British sprint training group.

The 22-year-old went to Llanishen High School in the capital where football and athletics vied for his attention.

As with so many Welsh sporting talents, his ability was spotted and encouraged by a supportive teacher, in his case, PE teacher David Griffin.

“Mr. Griffin always encouraged me and we still keep in touch regularly, even now,” says Azu.

“He used to tell me I needed to get to the track regularly because I had lots of talent and I could end up becoming a great sprinter if I worked hard.”

The school provided a nurturing environment for those keen to progress and develop their skills. In the same year group as Jeremiah was Rabbi Matondo, the current Rangers and Wales footballer.

“I look back to that time and that’s when I developed a love for track and field,” says Azu.

“It was all about having fun, testing yourself, and being around friends. Some of my best memories of school are of sitting on the bus on our way to Leckwith Stadium.

“You would have a good time with friends, get nervous when it was your turn to compete, and then slowly learn how to deal with all those emotions. It was really valuable.”

His first coach, Helen James of Cardiff Athletic Club, built on those foundations.

“She set up my whole life by actually implementing the training. I was with her for five years and she took me to a place that I had never imagined possible. She really changed my life.”

Mirroring the support he had at school and at his club, was Azu’s family and what he readily describes as a “god-fearing household.”

His mother Catherine and father Alex, his extended family in Cardiff as well as back in the Netherlands – where he used to visit every year – provided the platform from which he has gone on to become the fastest man in Britain over 60m this year as well as the British 100m champion in 2022.

“When I started to get serious about athletics at about 16 or 17, my parents provided the only funding I had. They were super supportive.

“They went the extra mile in terms of somehow buying the equipment and taking me to training.

“All these things you can take for granted. But my parents sacrificed a lot of time and money for me to get to this position.

“There are certain levels you just can’t achieve without the consistency in training and I’ve got my parents to thank for that.”

His Christian faith background did more than simply enable him to count his blessings, though.

The European U23 champion says it has also given him a focus as an athlete that some of his rivals cannot always match.

“When I’m on that start line, I feel I am not doing this just for me, or on my own, but there is a higher power behind me,” says the sprinter, who more recently linked up with coach Marco Airale in Italy.

“Whether things go right or wrong for me, it feels okay and I am able to carry on because I know I am doing god’s work.

“The way I plan things out, might not be the way he plans it out.

“I don’t want to make this sound narrow-minded, but a lot of people stand at the start line and don’t have a big reason for doing what they are doing. I feel I have that reason.

“For me, I want to spread the gospel. The faster I run, the more people I can reach.

“It can be a punishing sport but win or lose, you’ve got to move on. You are only as good as your last race.

“But I am fairly stable, emotionally, because I am not doing it to please any man or woman. I’m doing it to please god.”

That ability to touch the lives of others and deliver his own messages will certainly be enhanced if Jeremiah gets to wear a GB vest in Paris this summer.

He may still be in his early 20s, but he says the idea of being a role model for youngsters is already something he thinks about.

“When I was younger, I really looked up to Cristiano Ronaldo. I was a huge Manchester United fan.

“I admired Gareth Bale because he went to Whitchuch High, which was just down the road. It was cool to see someone from my area doing amazing things.

“I have also tried to learn from Colin Jackson. To achieve what he achieved, from where he came from, was incredible.

“He shaped everything himself. It’s a quality you can’t teach. A switch inside goes on and you determine to be the best you can be.”

Whatever success he achieves, Azu says it is vital for him to act as a role model himself, upholding the values he says his parents and coach Helen James instilled in him.

“When I post on social media, I am careful what I say because I know there are youngsters taking notice, or when I train in front of youngsters I try and do the right things because I used to watch older athletes and study what they did.

“It’s cool to be on the other side now. I am aware of that role, but I try and be myself.

The Commonwealth Games Team Wales member from Birmingham 2022 has already started to pass on his knowledge to younger athletes in development days, arranged by the likes of Welsh Athletics.

“I would love to be in the position to help young athletes, to pass on my experience.

“I think it’s a skill to be able to do that, so it’s something I want to develop. A lot of people who don’t have solid foundations, it can go to their heads.

“But I know there is way more to life than athletics and one day I won’t be doing it any more.

“My parents did well. They raised me to want to do things but also to remain humble.”

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