In June 2019, Amy Hunt burst her way into the history books by setting the Under-18 200m world record in Mannheim, Germany. In an exclusive interview with Tokyo 2020, the GB sprinter explains why the postponement of the Games may just be the best thing that could have happened for her.
Too hot to handle
That’s Amy Hunt’s enduring memory of the race. The race that changed her life in an instant.
Not the first 100m metres where she bore down on on one of her biggest junior rivals in the lane outside her own. Not the corner where her long, powerful strides saw her ease away from the rest of the field and into an unassailable lead. Not even the finish, where she dipped across the line in a new world record time of 22.42.
More than anything, the heat is what Hunt remembers.
“The track was so hot! Even when I was in the blocks I could feel it burning my hands and I was like ‘oh my god, can we get this going!’ And I was praying for the starter to get us away as quickly as possible because I was so, so hot,” says Hunt.
“And then I can’t remember much else!
“At the top of the straight, my feet were burning up… that’s my overriding memory is how hot my feet were.
“And then in the last 50 it was kind of like grit it out and hold on.”
Hunt did more than just hold on. Even if she can’t remember many of the details of the race, her performance that day marked her down as one of the most promising sprinters in the world.
She had produced a time that no female under the age of eighteen had run. Ever. And her time that day was the third fastest of all time by a British 200m runner - of any age.
I hadn’t run many 200s before last year at all
because I just didn’t enjoy them.
Dominating an event she didn’t enjoy
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Amy Hunt wasn’t even racing at her preferred distance. In fact, up until that point she had only run the 200m outdoors competitively on five occasions.
And she didn’t even enjoy the experience.
“The 100 was always my preferred event before I ran that time,” explains Hunt.
“I hadn’t run many 200s before last year at all because I just didn’t enjoy them. At the end I’d be lying on the floor, dizzy, on the verge of passing out. So I just really didn’t like them.”
But that day, almost on a whim, Hunt and her coach made the decision to run the 200m.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“The only reason I chose to do the 200 was because the week before I’d done the 100 in the junior trials, because that’s what I was aiming to do at the European juniors. So I thought ‘I’ll just have a bit of fun, you know!’
“I’ve raced three times over 100m in the last week, so I’ll just mix it up and do a 200.”
By the time Hunt had finished the race, her spikes had melted (literally), her life had changed and the 200m world record had been destroyed.
“Afterwards in the airport we were all getting our spikes out, because quite a few of us had run really fast. We were just comparing our spikes… and then we actually looked underneath all of our spikes and across every single brand all the plastic bits had melted on the bottom.
“The track was just so, so hot. And it wasn’t just me, it was everybody’s spikes had melted on the bottom.
“It was crazy. But yeah. That’s how hot it was.”
Talented Ms. Hunt
Amy Hunt is a woman of many talents.
Not only is she now the Under-18 200m world record holder, she also dominated at the European under-20 championships in Borås (Sweden), winning gold in the 200m, before being named the ‘Young Female Athlete of the Year’ by the British Athletics Writers’ Association.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that was talent enough.
But you get the impression that Hunt, who recently turned 18, could turn her hand to anything she put her mind to and make a roaring success of it.
The young athlete has been offered a place at Cambridge University to study English and is currently weighing up whether to accept the place or to study at Loughborough (Britain’s leading sports university) where she currently trains.
She’s also a talented cellist and ran the string group at her school, before the lockdown took hold across the UK.
For most people, the idea of juggling school work, music studies and hours of training would be mentally and physically exhausting.
But Amy Hunt clearly isn’t most people.
“Looking back at it now it’s like ‘Oh my god, I don’t know how I managed to cope.’ But when I was within it I almost had no choice. And it’s what I loved doing. I loved being that busy and that hectic all the time,” explains Hunt with enthusiasm.
“It was almost comforting because that’s what I was used to. But yeah, now I look back at it and I’m like wow.
“I was ridiculously busy. Nuts.”
2019 Getty Images
Loving life in lockdown
Of course, the routine has changed for Hunt, who like much of the rest of the world is locked down due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s a situation she’s taken in her world-record beating stride.
“From having such a hectic life to now not having much to do, it’s really nice to take a step back and actually relax for a bit, have a couple of lie ins and then go for walks with my mum, because I never got the chance to do that before. So it has been really nice.”
She has still managed to keep up with her training routines, building a gym in her garage and taking advantage of the nature (and anything else) around her to keep her fitness up.
“I live close to quite a big field, so I’ve been training there. Empty car parks for foot drills.
“And then I live really close to a hill so that’s been really useful in terms of getting some hill reps in and trying to get some speed reps in.
“But I’ve not been too bad actually. I’ve been really lucky with where I live and the resources around me.”
Another thing that has changed her life considerably this year is the fact that end of year exams have been cancelled in the UK this year. It means Hunt, who was due to sit for her A-levels, has time to do many of the things she could only have dreamt of before.
“My first exam was meant to be last week as well and I would have had that right around the corner, so I would have been super stressed, my brain would have been frazzled from all the revision and I wouldn’t have been able to have a nice, relaxing time with my parents.”
Eyes on Tokyo
And, of course, there is the small matter of Tokyo 2020.
When the topic moves on to next year’s Olympics, Hunt could not be happier with change of dates.
For the Team GB sprinter, another year of waiting means another year to grow and prepare for the greatest competition on earth.
“It’s such a positive thing for me. I think I would have been ready this year but having an extra year is absolutely the best thing for me, because I’ll be fitter, stronger, healthier, faster – all those positive superlatives,” says Hunt.
“So, yeah, that’s really a hugely positive thing for me and I think it massively increases my chances of being really competitive when I get there.”
If she does book her place in Tokyo, Hunt will be racing against many of her idols. Athletes she always looked up to will now become her competition.
It is a prospect Hunt has already had a taste of.
“Earlier this year I was given the amazing opportunity to race alongside Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and it was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Because I’ve watched her on TV so long and now you’re like two or three lanes away.”
But as she cements her place in the elite ranks, she has also earned the right to stand alongside some of the greatest sprinters of her generation. Even if she’s still a little starstruck by the prospect.
“I’ve always looked up to Dina (Asher-Smith) and I’ve always looked up to Daryll Neita and now I’m kind of nearing the edge of their world.
“At Mannheim, Daryll Neita was there and gave me a massive hug afterwards and I was like ‘wow, that’s so weird, I’ve watched you on TV and now you’re here congratulating me!’”
In terms of the competition I do definitely want to be competitive
and I think that extra year is definitely a help
Sticking to a winning formula
Some athletes thrive under pressure. But Amy Hunt’s experiences in her world-record beating race last year taught her that keeping the pressure off actually enabled her to thrive.
“I thought about it quite a lot afterwards. Was that aim [of just enjoying the race] the thing that made me run fast? And I think it definitely had a lot to do with it, because I was so relaxed, my whole posture was relaxed.
“I went into the race with that mindset of ‘just enjoy it. Have fun with it!’ Obviously do your best. You want to be such a competitive person, but don’t try and strain for that time, don’t kind of get really tense and compact.”
So when it comes to Tokyo 2020, that same winning ethos is driving her preparations for the Games.
“I don’t want to lump huge amounts of pressure on myself because I don’t know how I’m going to react in that situation, because it’s so completely unlike anything I will have ever experienced before.
“But then, in terms of the competition I do definitely want to be competitive and I think that extra year is definitely a help in enabling me to be more competitive.
“But yeah we’ll just have to see.”
For now, the hottest name in British sprinting has one more year to get ready for Tokyo. With the weather conditions in Japan likely to be sweltering next summer, will we see another blistering performance from Amy Hunt at next year’s Olympic Games?