Ones to Watch: Kristal Awuah, “I train to break records, not fall short of them.”

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Kristal Awuah is an athlete with ambition.

Last season the teenager shook the British sprinting scene with a 100m personal best of 11.16, falling just 0.02 seconds short of the under 20 record set by European triple-gold medallist Dina Asher-Smith.

The 19-year-old had already won bronze in the 100m and 4x100m at the World Junior Championships on only her second trip abroad. However, her 11.16 run at the IAAF World Challenge meet in Berlin was what caught the eyes of many throughout the sport.

For Kristal herself, this moment is best remembered as being “bittersweet”, as throughout the season she had an eye on beating Asher-Smith’s record.

“I train to break records, not fall short of them,” says Kristal, “so it was bittersweet because I only just missed it, but at the same time I ran quicker than I ever have done before. Also the stage I did it on was great, the crowd were amazing and it’s one of the fastest tracks in the world, so it was really exciting.”

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“The record wasn’t my ultimate plan, but the plan was to go much quicker than I did. Coming close to it when there was also a headwind shows that I could still have got it, so it’s just about pushing on and putting more in for this year.”

Awarded with a place on British Athletics’ funding programme for 2019, opening her season with a 60m best of 7.30 in Dortmund was a great start. Following up with a 7.19 clocking in Berlin – inside the European Indoor qualifying time – puts her a sensational sixth on the all-time list.

Despite her high standards and consistent progression, it is only relatively recently that the young sprinter truly began to emerge as one of the country’s brightest talents.

The Herne Hill athlete was 12-years-old when she started out in the sport, but one big result caught the eye when she was 16. Kristal clinched a tight but crucial victory in the English Schools Senior Girls 100m Final in 2016, having been eliminated in the first round the previous year.

“It was a shock but at the same time it wasn’t,” says Kristal “because I was determined and had put in a lot of work this time. I’d raced there before and didn’t want to come out in the heats again so it was just a matter of pushing through and getting it done.”

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For Kristal the reason for sudden improvement was obvious. “(I underachieved early on) mainly because I’d never really trained properly,” says Kristal, “so moving to the coach I have now, Matthew Thomas was the best move I ever made, because it meant that I could train at a much higher level and get the results I wanted.

“The way I train now is really smart. We have days set out for training and recovery and my sessions are really intense and everything is done a specific way, so I think had I met Matthew earlier, you guys would probably have seen much huger things from me when I was younger.”

“It gives me a lot of confidence. I don’t have to hesitate or second guess because I trust him and the results have shown he knows what he’s doing.”

As well as this, Kristal says her success is down to becoming physically stronger and having developed her winning mentality. She built on 2016 by defending her English Schools crown and becoming national under 20 champion, a feat she repeated last summer.

“My training group has really helped as well because now I’m in an environment where everyone is trying to be at a certain level, everyone is professional and they’ve got huge goals. So you have no choice but to work hard.”

Aside from her impressive PB, 2018 saw a number of debuts. The World Junior Championships saw her compete internationally for the first time, picking up her two medals on the way.

Later that month, she competed in the Olympic Stadium at the Anniversary Games, having been a spectator just twelve months earlier, before running alongside the best sprinters in the world at the IAAF Continental Cup, taking silver in the 4x100m relay alongside Asher-Smith.

“I think they were amazing experiences. I definitely learnt from the World Juniors, I wasn’t happy with the result,” says Kristal, who admitted at the time (below), “I kind of stumbled at the start but I brought it back!”

“I got a lot from it which meant I could go even quicker afterwards. There was such a good team spirit there as well, it was so warming everyone was there to make each other feel better and we made sure we watched each other’s races either at the track or on TV.

“I really got to know a lot of the staff and more athletes throughout the country, but the team leaders were really supportive and made sure we had everything we needed.”

It hasn’t necessarily been a smooth ride to where she is now, but after gaining her first experience of life at the top level, Awuah’s huge determination has just got that little bit bigger.

With 2019 seeing her transition to senior level, her sights are set on the biggest stage of all.

“2020 (Olympics) is now the aim for me,” says Kristal, “this year I just want to keep improving and see how it goes so there is no definite aim for me in 2019. It’s just a matter of setting it all up, getting quicker, getting fitter, getting stronger and going on to 2020.” With the way she has improved of late, there are very few who would doubt her.

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First published on: 30 January, 2019 9:03 pm

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