Meet the record-breaking teenager set for Cambridge
➤ Amy Hunt has opted for a life of stress juggling degree at top university with training as one of the world’s leading sprinters
‘I don’t have to sacrifice my education for the track or vice versa’
Amy Hunt had a tailor-made option waiting for her. Her move to train at Loughborough University’s athletics track three years ago had helped to propel her to heights she could not have envisaged, becoming Usain Bolt’s female equivalent as the fastest under-18 woman in history over 200metres last summer.
So when it came to selecting a higher education establishment, the simple route would have been to stick to what she knew: accept an offer to study English at Loughborough, retain daily access to her coach and base herself half an hour from the family home in Grantham. But she had her heart set on more.
Which is why Cambridge University’s freshers will find one of the world’s fastest women in their midst when they arrive for the first week of term next month – someone capable of running times good enough to win a medal at last year’s World Championships (which she opted not to contest) and study at one of the top universities. “It sounds really cringeworthy, but you only have one life,” Hunt tells The Daily Telegraph. “I have to push myself to succeed and follow my heart.
“I want to be as successful as I possibly can and I realised I didn’t want to let this opportunity go, because I’d probably regret it in five or 10 years’ time. I just fell in love with Cambridge when I went there.
“It’s going to be challenging. I fully accept it’s going to be hard at points, extremely stressful, and there will be times where I think I’ve made the wrong decision and could have gone somewhere nearer where I live. But I can’t always take the easy path. It was too good an opportunity to let go.”
Decision made, the quandary now is how Hunt balances her dual ambitions. She plans to live with her peers at Corpus Christi College, although eight-week terms mean she will spend more time each year “being a professional athlete” in Loughborough than in Cambridge. Any concerns over a lack of face-toface contact with her coach during term time have been allayed by the success of her pandemic-enforced, socially distanced coaching relationship over the past few months.
And while her path may be unusual, it is far from unique. Delve into the archives and Hunt will find Cambridge University alumnus Harold Abrahams, whose successful quest to win Olympic 100m gold was depicted in Chariots of Fire.
More recently, the likes of Dina Asher-Smith (history at King’s College, London) and Laura Muir (veterinary medicine at the University of Glasgow) proved it is possible to excel in athletics while studying at the highest level.
Another university graduate, Adam Gemili, who studied sports and exercise science at the University of East London, has been offering Hunt advice on the careful juggling act. “It was super helpful because he travelled quite a bit between university and training, so I talked to him about coping with that and how you succeed in both aspects of your life,” Hunt says.
“He said about making sure you have trust and honesty with your coach, and being on top of planning as much as possible – having everything in place to make it the least stressful possible.
“I look up to people like Laura and Dina. They showed it is very much possible to do university courses and be globally renowned at the top of world athletics. I don’t have to sacrifice my education for track or vice versa.”
Like many of her peers, the act of actually ensuring her place at Cambridge University was taken out of her hands after the pandemic left her unable to sit her A-levels. She describes the ordeal as “kind of terrifying” with “your whole future in the balance and someone else deciding what’s going to happen”. Thankfully, she received the necessary grades after a nervy last-minute upgrade.
Aside from celebrating her 18th birthday in novel fashion – with her father dressing as a pretend bouncer after her parents turned their conservatory into a fake nightclub during lockdown – and getting started on her hefty university reading list, the main impact of the pandemic has been the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics.
Unsurprisingly, given her age, she says the delay is “definitely a positive thing” with another year to get “stronger, fitter, faster”.
Concentrating solely on 100m this year, she narrowly missed her 11.31sec personal best last week in Sweden and heads into this weekend’s British Championships ranked second in a depleted field missing the likes of world medallists Asher-Smith, Asha Philip and Daryll Neita.
Her first aim is to enjoy competing after so long without racing, but she admits the goal is “more about placings than times” as she attempts to add the national outdoor 100m title to the indoor 60m crown she claimed last winter. Afterwards, it will be back to the books.
“It was lovely to live the life of a professional athlete for a bit during lockdown and purely focus on training,” she says. “But I’m now getting to the point where I need something else. I’ve missed studying.”
Cambridge will doubtless provide plenty to keep her occupied.
Flying the flag: Amy Hunt, who will begin university life at Cambridge next week, celebrates her British indoor 60 metre title earlier this year