Imani-Lara Lansiquot is juggling her third year of university and training for the Tokyo Olympics, so it wouldn't be surprising if she seemed stressed in person.
In fact, she is the complete opposite coming across as bubbly and enthusiastic – even about the data collection she is doing for her dissertation which she proceeds to explain is "cool".
When Lansiquot, 22, isn’t studying psychology at Kings College London she is busy being one of the UK’s fastest women across 100 metres. Her time of 11.09 seconds puts her fourth on the UK all-time list.
She was part of the European Championship gold medal-winning 4 x 100-metre relay team and won a silver medal for the same event at the 2019 World Championships after running in the heats.
It’s not an easy juggling act for the sprinter, who says laughing: “I'd love to be like ‘I'm organized’ and everything. It's not like that at all, it is chaotic.”
She is currently working on her dissertation, but she concedes that it isn’t her priority: “The most important thing is that training is non-negotiable, that is my priority. I fit university around that. You only get a chance every four years – next time I'll be 26 when the Olympics comes around. I want to give it everything that I've got. Uni can wait.”
Life might feel chaotic but Lansiquot follows a fairly strict schedule to fit everything in. Training starts at 9 each morning: “I'll do a running session for up to two and a half hours then I'll have a little break, I'll do a gym session and then I'll get some treatment afterwards or stretch.” After all that it is time for university work.
Her hard work is paying off: “I don't want to jinx anything but [training is going] really, really well and coming back off of injury last year, I had to look in the mirror and think: ‘Okay, I need to get stronger, I need to get better, be more robust’.”
Now she says she is the strongest she’s ever been and injury-free, “which feels so good to say”.
Overall things are looking good: “I'm really happy with the place that we're in now, I've been with my coach for three years now, so we know each other a lot more. I know my body so much more. It should be a really good year, fingers crossed.”
It's easy to imagine how winning a silver medal at the 2019 World Championships in Doha could create more pressure for Lansiquot ahead of Tokyo but she says this isn't the case.
“What I think is brilliant about the relay is that we're always going for gold," she explains. "If we didn't get a silver medal, we would have been disappointed in ourselves. We didn't win the silver medal and think ‘Oh my god, we're so lucky, we worked so hard for it’. We all had this common goal, we're all driven.
"We approach this year the same way we approach every year and we're drilled into that now. It doesn't feel like the spectacle that it is, it feels like we're there to get the job done. And yeah, we're hoping to win.”
There are other ways that Lansiquot helps ease the pressure that comes with being an athlete. Her training schedule, for example, is 42-weeks-long and involves practising even the most minute of details – by race day everything is second nature.
She says: “The goal of training is that you get to race day and you're not thinking of anything because everything is automatic.”
When it comes to dealing with the mental impact of injuries Lansiquot’s motto is simple: “Fail fast.”
“That is the one motto that's got me through last year and all the downfalls that come with the sport,” she explains. “It is about learning what you can from the situation, applying it as soon as you can and not looking backwards. We look forwards all the time and that helps a lot.”
This is a lesson Lansiquot learned through being part of the Sky Sports Scholars programme – a scheme that provides not just funding but media training, work experience and mentoring.
She reflects on how receiving mentorship has changed her journey: “I honestly feel so much more mature. I feel ready. If I could rewind to before the programme, there's no way that I'd be ready to do the Olympic games. It's a complete transformation.”
Even as a World Championship medallist, Lansiquot’s mentor – Sky Sports reporter Geoff Shreeves – has kept her grounded and focused. She recalls: “Geoff's favourite quote is: ‘You're not entitled to anything apart from fresh air.’ He doesn't let me rest ever, I got my medal and he was like: ‘But you could have got gold.’”
So what advice would Lansiquot herself pass on to young athletes who are inspired by watching her run? “I don't know if other people could relate to this,” she starts, “but I'm one of those people that has always put too much pressure on myself. I'm an absolute perfectionist.
“If someone can relate to those types of feelings, whether you're female or you're male, young, or old, I would say just to relax. The best things happen when you're relaxed. You always run faster when you’re relaxed, you train better when you're relaxed.
“I think putting so much pressure on yourself is a trap you can fall into especially in an Olympic year, so trust yourself and believe in yourself. It's okay to believe in yourself and take a chance.”
If nerves do set in, there’s one thing that Lansiquot always falls back on – a pre-race playlist that she hasn’t updated in years. She redacts the final song on it, laughing and saying “it's embarrassing”, but will share another of her favourites on it – Beyoncé’s Flawless.
Ultimately though having an upbeat and positive playlist, however embarrassing the songs might be, is important to Lansiquot and her race day. “It makes you happy," she says.
"I know a lot of people that listen to aggressive music and I just feel like why waste all your energy before you're on the track. I'd rather feel like myself, which is happy and then when I get on the track I can channel that energy at that moment.”
When we see Lansiquot line up in Tokyo, whether she has updated her playlist or not, it sounds like she's ready for whatever the track has in store.
Sky Sports Scholars was launched in 2011 and has helped 35 athletes with financial support, personal development, mentoring, work experience and more.
- The Hundred to offer equal prize money to men's and women's teams
- Casey Stoney and Kelly Smith return to the pitch for Soccer Aid
- Dina Asher-Smith meets her one-of-a-kind Barbie