There are few young talents in British athletics that compare to Amber Anning.
Although her memorably alliterative name has been bounded about discussion before 2019, the sprinter’s performances during the indoor season have thrust her into the spotlight. At just 18 years old, she is having to balance revising for her A-levels and working on an athletics career that many believe will take her to World Championships and Olympic Games.
It’s an assessment that – having watched Anning twice this season – is built on more than just hype and her performances at the European Indoor Championships spoke for themselves. Speaking exclusively with GiveMeSport, the track starlet reflected on her time in Glasgow with great maturity and will use it as a launch pad going into this summer’s junior calendar.
“It was an amazing experience for me because it was just so unexpected,” the 18-year-old explained. “The aim was never to get there, so to be there as a youngster on the team and representing GB, there’s just so much honour. It was just a whole learning experience for me – watching the other athletes, how they conduct themselves and how they go through the rounds.
“Although I didn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve going into it, you have to sit back and watch how the pros and top athletes did it. It was just so exciting. It was such a great learning curve and I’m going to take a lot from what I learnt there into my junior races.”
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Praise from Michael Johnson
There can be no better preparation for the European Athletics U20 Championships than mixing it with the seniors and performing under the watchful eye of BBC television cameras. In fact, despite missing out on her goal of the semi-finals, Anning justly drew praise from none other than Michael Johnson, who extolled her ‘tremendous amount of confidence and potential.’
It would be easy to let such dizzying praise go to one’s head, but that isn’t the case with Anning and she banks them as lessons learned. “He never gives out praise like that!” Anning laughed. “He just spent so much time analysing my race, this is a former world-record holder, so to have him speaking about me in the way he did, it was really inspiring.
“I’m keeping in mind what he said and I’m going to take that into my next races, but it was just so surreal having people of that level talking about my performances. It’s kind of crazy!” Although the Brighton-based runner missed out on the individual semi-finals, she would enjoy the trip down south with a silver medal around her neck.
Support from the British team
Competing alongside the trio of Laviai Nielsen, Eilidh Doyle and Zoey Clark; Anning would finish second in the 4×400 metre relay and delivered a strong performance on the third leg. Every British athlete will vouch for the camaraderie amongst the team and the 18-year-old thought it was ‘amazing’ to carry the baton amongst such decorated company.
Reflecting on the home quartet, Anning remarked: “Eilidh Doyle, she’s just phenomenal! She’s always been so supportive towards me and she said some really kind words about my performance, but all of us were the top finishers in the British champs, so I knew we had the potential to medal. I didn’t know which colour it was, but I knew we were strong enough.
“It was such a nice group of girls, I know not all of them had the performances they wanted, so it was just nice to be on the last event of the competition and really give it our last effort to try and get a medal for the team. I mean, the Polish, they were good and they were very strong.
“The girls set me up really nicely to try and get it round to Eilidh Doyle – there was so much going through my head, I didn’t go off too fast, I just made sure I kept my composure and got it round to her ok. I was so glad to come away with a medal from my first senior championships. It was unexpected, so it was just really nice to finish off the whole championships.”
Making history in Birmingham
To stand atop the podium on the senior stage was certainly a statement of intent, but arguably Anning’s greatest performance of the year had arrived the month prior. The junior athlete made headlines with her display at the British Indoor Championships – breaking the 49-year-old British under-20 women’s 400m indoor record and securing herself a silver medal behind Clark.
No matter what Anning goes on to achieve, she will always have made history in Birmingham but her exact time of 53.00 seconds proved somewhat bitter-sweet. Anning honestly admitted: “I knew I had the capability of doing it, so I wasn’t shocked because I thought: ‘I can definitely do this’, but I think I wanted more.
“I had it in my head that I wanted to run sub-53 seconds, so when I saw the time I was like: ‘I’ve got the record but that’s not the time I wanted.’ It was a bit surreal, because this is the first season that I’ve competitively done 400 metres indoors, so to start off doing that and getting the British was pretty cool! I had so many messages after was, so it was really overwhelming.”
Moving to America
Such stellar performances in Birmingham and Glasgow provide enviable foundations for the outdoor season and Anning is approaching a crucial year in her athletics career. After concluding her A-level studies, the Brit will take her sprinting across the pond and hopes to use America’s track and field infrastructure to fulfil her Olympic dreams.
“America is the highlight of this year,” Anning remarked with great excitement. “I leave around August 13 to start my career in that student/athlete life. I’m going to LSU and I’m just so excited because it’s one of the best universities for track and field right now. I’ve been looking at the results recently and it’s just crazy to think I’m going to be there in August.
“It’s that next level, where you’ve got everything together in the same place – physio, nutritionist, psychologist and it’s got the facilities which are pretty awesome. It’s going to be an exciting four years. Some of my friends are out there at the moment and seeing what they’re doing is making me so excited to go out there, the improvements they’ve made are crazy.”
Olympic hopes and dreams
At first, an appearance at Paris 2024 was the long-term aim but making an Olympic bow in Tokyo is now looking more realistic than ever. Anning’s flexibility between the 200m and 400m, coupled with the potential improvements of training in the US, give her the best possible chance to make senior championships a regular pastime.
“Will I be at the Olympics next year? Who knows?” the sprinter mused. “I think age is just a number, if you have the capability, the determination and you have the speed to keep up with these girls, your age can’t stop you from doing that. I always used to say when I was younger: ‘I want to be at the 2024 Olympics, because I’ll be 23 and that’s peak age.’
“But I’ve realised: why can’t I go to Tokyo? I just want to take it year by year and just see how I am and I feel like the 400 metres at the moment, it’s really anybody’s and there’s no one person who’s out there on top. So, I do feel like I’ve go the capability to do what I want earlier. If you can challenge these girls, then why would you wait four years when you can do it now?”
There’s a feeling that – at just the age of 18 – the athletics world is Anning’s oyster. For an athlete that’s put under so much pressure to reach her potential, she is handling the anticipation with great maturity and immaculate performances. There’s every reason to think her move to America will bring the type of refinements that will help populate an already burgeoning medal collection.
True to her own philosophy, don’t be surprised if Anning continues to prove that age is just a number in the sporting world. Watch this space.