The Daily Telegraph

Anning’s move to States will boost her Tokyo credential­s

- Dina Ashersmith

While some athletes will be struggling with the postponeme­nt of the Olympics, for others having an extra year to prepare for the Games is a gift. Those who are injured will now have the time to give their body the rest it needs, rather than slapping on a band-aid and pushing for a quick recovery.

And then there are those who are still young, and for whom the consequenc­es of an extra year are the most exciting – and unpredicta­ble – as they aim to make their first Olympic team. With this in mind I wanted to speak to Britain’s teenage sprint star, Amber Anning.

In the British track community, we know Amber and her performanc­es well. At just 19, she’s one of those young athletes for whom we have our fingers crossed because she’s level-headed and a proven performer having worked under Lloyd Cowan, coach of Chrissy Ohuruogu, Bianca Williams and Dwayne Cowan. Now Amber is with Dennis Shaver at Louisiana State University – arguably one of the best collegiate sprint programmes in the United States.

Amber first came to my attention five years ago when she broke my 300m national record for the under-15 age group. She remains the only British girl to have dipped below 39 seconds at that age.

Since then she has won multiple national titles over 200m and 400m, become the fastest British junior of all time over 400m indoors and currently ranks fourth in the 400m outdoor junior all-time list. At just 18 she made her first internatio­nal senior podium as part of the silver medal-winning 4x400m squad at the 2019 European Indoor Championsh­ips in Glasgow, and later that year took gold and silver in the 4x400m relay and 400m respective­ly at the outdoor European Junior Championsh­ips in Sweden.

With the news of Tokyo’s postponeme­nt, Amber is one of those young athletes whose goals have definitely shifted. “I think I could have made [Tokyo] this year, potentiall­y in the 4x400m relay, but now I feel like I have an even better chance attempting to make it individual­ly,” she told me earlier this year. “It gives me another 12 months to get stronger and faster and really mentally prepare myself for the race and competitio­n. Having another season in America is only going to push me to faster times and more experience. I am excited to see what I can achieve at British Trials in 2021.”

Amber is one of many talented young athletes who have chosen the American collegiate system over the UK.

Within months of switching to the new programme she ran 52.22 sec over 400m, only four hundredths of a second outside her personal best time, and bagged a 51 second split for the 4x400m.

To be in personal best shape just a few months after moving halfway across the world, adjusting to college life, a new coaching structure and programme is no easy feat.

“I had my physio in Brighton and Lloyd in London, I was commuting three to four times a week,” she says. “The biggest positive being out here is having everything so close. I can see the track from my window. I get around campus on my pink scooter! We’ve got people holding water bottles for us during training. Everything I need is right in front of me.”

Amber says that her training environmen­t at LSU is far more structured than it was in the UK. In this country support is often localised to high-performanc­e centres that may be hours away and geared towards those on higher levels of funding, with relatively few elite competitiv­e opportunit­ies for young athletes at Amber’s level to gain valuable experience. In Britain we tend to expect the world from promising juniors, without making meaningful investment­s in domestic coaching strategies and developmen­tal programmes. We hope that the talent will burst through, despite not making the path as clear as it could be. I expect that this will change markedly in British Athletics’ new era, but it’s what my peers and I had to contend with.

This is what makes the National Collegiate Athletic Associatio­n system so attractive: the chance to train in an elite environmen­t and face world-class competitio­n. Amber agrees. “I feel like the mentality here is just win, win, win,” she says. “I wanted to be thrown in with the best of the best. I thought if I can compete against them and be the best then when it gets to Olympic level my main competitio­n will be the ones I’ve competed against throughout my whole college time.”

The system does not work for everyone, of course. Sometimes athletes arrive and quickly realise they had a ‘grass is greener’ moment and return home. Some grapple with moving away from home to start university, but on a magnified scale because they have gone across the Atlantic, and not just up the M1. And, of course, the NCAA is tough, cut-throat even.

Amber recalls how an injury in 2018, the year of the World Juniors, nearly derailed her opportunit­y. “A lot of [colleges] went silent when I was injured. LSU was the only university who kept the faith and kept speaking to me despite my injury. I thought if they can look after me when I’m injured, when I do get there they’re going to be able to take care of me.”

LSU coaches even visited her at the family home in Brighton. And the colleges who didn’t keep in touch? They soon regretted it. “After I ran 52.2 Jonathan [Ilori, from Right Track who helps British applicants navigate the college system] said all the coaches contacted him and said ‘damn, wish we’d been in contact sooner’.”

Had Covid-19 not altered her plans, Amber believes she would have been able to impress at the British trials this year. “In my head I should be able to run 50.0 but I think time-wise low 51’s is what I was aiming for. I would have wanted to win nationals outdoors.” Next month she flies to the US to resume training.

Amber is an amazing teenager, strong, confident and with a good mentality. Everyone in British track and field will be hoping that her upward trajectory continues.

To be in personal best shape just months after moving halfway across the world is no easy feat

 ??  ?? Rising star: Amber Anning en route to 400m silver in Sweden last year and (below) with the relay four in Glasgow
Rising star: Amber Anning en route to 400m silver in Sweden last year and (below) with the relay four in Glasgow
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