Amy Hunt: The British teenager who is faster than Dina Asher-Smith

By Mike HensonBBC Sport
Amy Hunt, still just 17, celebrates 200m victory in last year's European under-20 Championships
Amy Hunt, still just 17, celebrates 200m victory in last year's European Under-20 Championships

“Obviously I would have loved to have taken the exams.”

Amy Hunt’s view may not be a usual one. But then her year, even before A-level cancellations amid a global pandemic, is also quite exceptional.

In June, the 17-year-old ran in a 200m race in a junior meeting in Mannheim, Germany. The time, rather than the mammoth margin of victory, prompted gasps in the small single-tier stand on the home straight.

Hunt stopped the stadium clock at 22.42 seconds, jaw-dropping digits however you quantify them.

It was a personal best by three quarters of a second,external-link a new under-18 world record, an improvement on Dina Asher-Smith’s British under-20 record, good enough to put her third in the British all-time senior standings and would have earned bronze at the World Championships in Doha later that year.

All from an athlete running the distance competitively outdoors for only the fifth time.

“It is quite cringey to say as soon as I crossed the line, my life changed. But it did. Quite dramatically,” she told BBC Sport.

Before that race , the 39C conditions had the soles of her spikes gently melting on the track. After it, the heat generated by her performance sent her phone – overwhelmed with messages from far and wide – into its own meltdown.

She was drug-tested for the first time. On the plane home, she and British Athletics officials spent the flight rebuffing incessant interview requests.

“It was such a crazy experience for me,” she adds.

Life comes at you quick when you are one of the fastest teenagers of all time. And, until lockdown, it barely let up for Hunt.

She won golds at 200m and 4x100m at the European Under-20s later that summer and was named as the young female athlete of 2019 by the British Athletics Writers' Association. This February she made her elite level debut at the Indoor Grand Prix in Glasgow in February, finishing fourth in a field that included Jamaican great Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who Hunt remembers watching win Beijing Olympic gold as a six-year-old sitting on the sofa back in Nottinghamshire.

A week later she returned to the same venue to win a title on her senior debut, claiming the British 60m crown.

“Those two weekends in Glasgow, I felt I had grown as an athlete and a person,” she said.

”Seeing all these famous athletes who I had watched on TV in the Diamond League in warm-up, I felt I have earned my place in this race. I deserve to be here. I should be here. This is where I want to be and where I want to stay.“

Off the track, things are barely less hectic. She has been combining her sport with A-level studies in English literature, music and chemistry. As the athletics season came to a close this past winter, she travelled to Cambridge University for a test of another kind, interviewing to study English at Corpus Christi college.

“I really thought I would be quite calm, I had had all the cameras and media at the European Juniors already, but in the car on the way down I was so nervous I was feeling really sick,” Hunt remembers.

“But the experience as a whole was absolutely amazing, talking to leading academics and professors - I loved every second of it.”

About the time that her subsequent offer of a place at Cambridge dropped in her inbox, Hunt was included on a different, exclusive list – featuring among fashion magazine Vogue’s faces to watch in the new decade.external-link

“I had just visited my grandparents with my sister and mum and I had an email on my phone from Vogue. I told my mum to stop the car - my sister was screaming my mum was crying,” she remembers.

As she sat in make-up, discussing literature and Paris Fashion Week with Australian actor Jacob Elordi – a tale that caused more hysterics for her sister – it was another other-worldly moment.

“The shoot was surreal, just to be around these incredible actors and different people, who had been so successful and getting to wear all these expensive clothes instead of the usual lycra, spikes and trainers!” she said.

Taking on Olympic champions, talking shop with English literature experts, staring down the barrel of a Vogue photoshoot – Hunt is yet to meet a challenge she doesn’t run straight towards.

“I definitely tend to thrive under pressure. I enjoy that busy schedule, pushing myself to the edge in a really good way and proving to myself how successful I can be under that pressure, stress and chaos,” she says.

Which is why she would like, in an ideal world, to be taking her first A-Level exams, beginning with the questions on Othello and A Streetcar Named Desire in a drama paper next Thursday.

Instead, after a blurring fast rise, Hunt’s life and career have hit an enforced go-slow as she spends lockdown at her family home, catching up on sleep, binging Netflix’s The Last Dance documentary, reading books and watching performances of Shakespeare as part of the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine series.

She and coach Joe McDonnell have been also working together via video calls. The success or otherwise of their socially distanced experiment will be a factor in whether she takes up her offer from Cambridge or instead studies at McDonnell’s University of Loughborough base.

Where she’ll be next year in athletics is also intriguing. Hunt believes she would have had a shot at qualifying for the Tokyo games had they been held in 2020, but their postponement until 2021 “really plays into my hands as a younger athlete”.

“I’ll be another year older, a lot stronger through natural development and it gives us time to work on some technical aspects,” she adds.

When action, academia and social lives get back under way, Hunt will be well advised to leave an Olympic-shaped hole in her packed diary.