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Jeremiah Azu: The solid foundations that nurtured Wales’ fastest man

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If Jeremiah Azu makes the Great Britain athletics squad for Paris, then he will find inner calm to settle any nerves.

The sprinter – who recently became the first Welsh athlete ever to run sub-10 seconds for 100m – 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.

Jeremiah 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 Jeremiah.

“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 Jeremiah.

“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 Athletics 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.”

Jeremiah Azu crosses the finish line in between two other athletes.
Credit: Owen Morgan
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.
Jeremiah Azu

Jeremiah’s grew up in what he readily describes as a “God-fearing household.”

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

The European U23 champion, and Wales’ fastest man of all time, 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.

“Whether things go right or wrong for me, it feels ok, and I am able to carry on because I know I am doing God’s work. For me, I want to spread the gospel. The faster I run, the more people I can reach.”

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 also 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, Jeremiah 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.”

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. 

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

Want to follow in Jeremiah Azu’s footsteps down a 100m track? Give it a try at a Welsh Athletics club near you.

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