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Gerald Phiri
Gerald Phiri

Born to run

Sheffield sprinter Gerald Phiri is dreaming of being an "all-time great" in his chosen sport - we met up with the Wincobank teenager to learn more about his burning ambition...


Born in Zambia, but now firmly established in South Yorkshire via South Africa and Wales, Gerald Phiri is a young man in a hurry.

The 16-year-old from Wincobank in Sheffield is one of the country's brightest young sprinting talents and is on a mission to become a sporting superstar in this country and beyond.

Having already posted the third-fastest 100m time in the history of UK Under-17 sprinters (10.51 seconds) as well as a mark just 00.01 seconds behind Mark Lewis-Francis' junior record over 60m, Phiri has got serious speed to burn, and he also runs the 200m and has plans to compete in the 400m.

Our reporter Andy Casey paid a visit to Phiri's home to chat about his hopes and dreams for the future, life away from the sport and why he chose athletics ahead of a possible career as a professional footballer...

AC: So tell us a little bit about your background

GP: I was born in Zambia, moved to South Africa in 1996 and from there my mum got a job in the UK so we found ourselves in Welshpool, a small town in Wales. My coach there was my PE teacher and after that we moved here, to Sheffield.

AC: Was it in Wales that you were first introduced to athletics and sprinting?

"I never go to a competition thinking I can't win. I believe in my talent and that I have got what it takes to be the best"

GP: Not really. I've always done sports days and I've always liked athletics so it wasn't new to me. However, after training I realised that athletics was something I wanted to do - before that it was just running.

AC: When did you realise you had a real talent for sprinting?

GP: I was in year seven at school and I ran 11.76 seconds wind-assisted and 11.85. At that time it should have been a UK record but I had just moved to the country so I wasn't really recognised back then.

When we moved to Sheffield I started winning English Schools titles, AAA's [Amateur Athletic Association] and others, so it really went on from there.

AC: So when did you make the move to the Steel City?

GP: I moved to Sheffield in 2002, when I was in year eight. I joined the City of Sheffield Atheltic Club, based at Don Valley Stadium, and found my current coach, Lewis Samuel.

Lewis used to be a national-standard 400m runner but unfortunately he got injured and is now trying to pass on his advice to me to make sure it doesn't happen to me?

AC: Talk me through a typical training week

GP: I'm currently training four days a week - Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Sunday is more endurance training while Monday is circuit training and a bit of track just as a warm-up.

Tuesday is another long session and Thursday is short sprints which keeps the speed.

AC: This season you've made your mark and reached the semi-finals of the 100m at the UK (AAA) Senior Championships. How disappointed were you not to make the final of that event?

GP: I was gutted! I made the final of the 60m indoors and came fifth, although I think I could have done a lot better. I did a lot of speed work in the winter but didn't run as well because I had some back problems.

In terms of outdoors, I've been expecting to run a lot faster but since April/May time I've been having consistent growth spurts which has made it difficult to peak properly for certain events.

AC: What's you personal best time for the 100m?

GP: It's currently 10.51 seconds, which is good for an Under-17 but I could have done a lot better. People try to make me feel better by saying 'it's 10.51 and you're 16' but it's more about ability to me than age - I know what I'm capable of.

AC: So what times are you realistically hoping to run in say, the next 12 months?

GP: Next year I've got the World Junior Championships [in Beijing, China] so I'll have to run fast.

This past season I was expecting to run around 10.26 seconds and building up to the Under-17 AAA Championships in August I was running a lot faster than expected and my coach even thought I could run 10.18 seconds.

I believe I could have still done that but again I started growing [Phiri went on to win the 100m title in a time of 10.7 seconds].

AC: Are you hoping to run both the 100m and 200m at the World Junior Championships?

American sprinter Walter Dix
American sprinter Walter Dix

GP: I have to get the qualifying times first! We've got loads of people trying to go for the double who are more than capable so it's going to be tough but I believe I can do it, I really do.

AC: So when will you know if you've made the team?

GP: We've got the Under-20 championships in June/July every year. The top two in each event are guaranteed a place as long as they have the qualifying time, and they take a third person by looking at consistency and other stats like that.

AC: And if you make the team do you think the strength of British sprinting is such that you could expect to win a medal?

GP: Yes. I never go to a competition thinking I can't win. I believe in my talent and that I have got what it takes to be the best. You have Walter Dix of America, who has run 10.08 seconds this year at 17 and he's still a junior next year so the world junior record [10.01 seconds] is under threat, but everyone is beatable as far as I'm concerned.

last updated: 05/09/05
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