If you are a talented European female sprinter and want to win an IAAF World Youth Championships gold medal, you can save yourself the air fare to the United States or Jamaica. Instead, go and find Mike McFarlane in north London at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre.
McFarlane, England’s1982 Commonwealth Games 200m gold medallist and a three-time Olympian himself in the 1980s, has now guided the last two girls’ 200m champions, both of whom have been wearing British vests.
Firstly, he helped Jodie Williams to success in Bressanone/Brixen two years ago. In Lille on Sunday (10), it was Desiree Henry’s turn to execute his plans with panache and stand on top of the podium.
The 15 year-old London schoolgirl, the youngest member of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team, had a blistering start from the gun and never faltered, leaving the rest of a talented field trailing in her wake before stopping the clock at a world-leading time of 23.25 for a youth sprinter.
After already setting a personal best when winning her semi-final on Saturday, it meant that she ended the Championships more than half-a-second faster than when she had arrived in Lille with a mark of 23.78 to her name.
"I would say all of this is due to him [McFarlane],” said Henry, paying tribute to her mentor who was in Lille to see her unexpected triumph, at least as far as the rest of the world was concerned.
“Since I joined him, I have progressed in a way I didn't think possible, and in such a short period of time. I do really want to thank him for all he did for me, I am so grateful."
No surprise at terrific time
"I was not totally surprised by my performance as I knew I could do PBs in the earlier rounds and, once in the final, the quality of the field would bring fast times. I am in great shape and I am really pleased about my performance. I am so happy to be a champion.
"Not only could I come here and get this amazing experience, I leave as a world champion. It made me grow so much as an athlete. I am 15, I maybe less experienced than others as an athlete, but this showed me that once you are on the start line, it's anybody's game.
“I have the heart for it and the correct mindset, I wanted this so bad,” added Henry, who also possibly could have got a gold medal for the biggest smile of the Championships as she stood on the podium with a grin that could have outshone The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland.
Since her success in the Tyrol on the Italian side of the border, Williams has progressed to taking the 100m gold medal and 200m silver at the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada.
Henry has a similar stepping stone ahead of her with the 2012 edition of the Championships in Barcelona next summer.
“I have to focus on keeping my form, I am going to be older and I will need to raise my game. If I am ready to do this, then I am just going to see how I cope,” reflected Henry, who is also a member of the same Enfield and Haringey club that McFarlane represented for so many years as a competitor.
Barcelona shouldn’t be too overwhelming for Henry, despite the fact that she will still be only 16 when the Catalan city stages the Championships, as she has consistently been competing with the juniors in Britain this year.
Henry won the under-20 200m title at the 2011 England Indoor Age Group Championships in March against a plethora of talented British female sprinters up to four years older than herself.
In good hands
However, Henry can also look to McFarlane to guide her wisely when it comes to what championships are appropriate for the prodigious teenager and ensure that she doesn’t burn out like so many teenage athletics talents.
McFarlane has resisted suggestions that Williams should go to the IAAF World Championships this summer, putting the 2009 World Youth Championships gold medallist’s educational wellbeing ahead of being part of Great Britain’s 4x100m squad.
“Many young athletes don’t make it. They flop because they’re doing too much. She [Williams] is still studying; a lot of people forget that. I want to make sure that come September she’s ready for her last year of A-levels [the British exams at the end of high school],” said McFarlane a few months ago, when Williams’ presence or otherwise in Daegu was a debating point in the media.
“My role is to make her the best athlete she can be and ensure her longevity. We’ll look at the senior events and decide which ones to take part in,” he added sagely.
With this in mind, it is also unlikely that Henry will compete overseas again after her Lille exploits until next summer.
However, her run at these World Youth Championships will make her next appearance at a major event, whenever it is, something to wait for with anticipation.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF
- Desiree Henry of Great Britain takes girls' 200m gold in Lille (Getty Images) © Copyright