Andrew Pozzi has had so many foot surgeries in his career, he can’t even remember the exact number.
“I think it’s three on the left, two on the right,” he says. “Maybe four on the left, two on the right.”
The sprint hurdler has two screws in each of his feet holding him together. “I’m a bit of a terminator,” the 24-year-old jokes.
At least ‘five or six’ surgeries in total is a staggering number for someone of Pozzi’s age. But the Briton is finally back on his ‘Frankenstein feet’ and ready to take on the world.
At last weekend’s Indoor Meeting Karlsruhe, part of the IAAF World Indoor Tour, he recorded a world-leading 7.49 in the heats before defeating world and Olympic medallists in an even faster 7.44 in the final. Pozzi now holds four of the eight fastest times in the world this year and is still only getting back into racing.
“I knew I was in very good shape and I was kind of pleased with my heat,” he said. “I was hoping to go under 7.50 in Karlsruhe.
“I didn’t think I was quite ready for a run under 7.45, so I was a bit shocked initially, but I did know after the heat that there was definitely a bit more in there. I was just happy to get it out really.”
His results in Germany were a welcome reminder of how far he had come after years of injury nightmares.
Turn back the clock to 2012 and Pozzi looked poised to make his mark on the international hurdles scene. In March he placed fourth at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul aged just 19. He opened his outdoor campaign with a European age-19 best of 13.35 and went on to reduce his PB to 13.34 at the Diamond League meeting in London in July, prompting world indoor record-holder Colin Jackson to hail Pozzi as one of the event’s future stars.
But one month later, a hamstring injury forced him out of the heats at his home Olympics. It was all downhill from there.
“London 2012 was a spectacle, but for me obviously it ended very disappointing,” he recalls. “I was only 20 at the time. Everything was quite new to me then and that disappointment was difficult to come back from.”
It took several attempts and surgical procedures for Pozzi to get back on track. 2016 finally looked like a breakthrough. In his outdoor season opener in May, only his second 110m hurdles since July 2012, he set a PB of 13.32.
He went on to win the national outdoor title in a PB of 13.31 and equalled that time in the semi-finals of the European Championships in Amsterdam. Hampered by cramps, he decided to skip the final to not risk injury.
A week later at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London, his gamble looked to pay off when he recorded a lifetime best of 13.19. But once again, cramps prevented him from contesting the final. All was fine still; the Rio Olympics was the big goal.
“In the holding camp before Rio I felt I was in the shape of my life, running PBs all over the shop,” he recalls.
Unfortunately, his body wasn’t yet ready to handle the rounds and he bowed out in the semi-finals.
“It was really tough immediately after,” he admits. “But after a few weeks, when I kind of settled down, I became a bit more rational and put it in perspective.”
He realised it was a big step in the right direction. For the first time in years, he finished a season uninjured. “To be fit and healthy was just huge for me.”
At the end of 2016, his coach Malcolm Arnold – the man who coached Jackson to world and Olympic medals – retired. Pozzi packed up his belongings and moved from Bath in southwest England to Loughborough in the Midlands to join Benke Blomkvist’s group.
The transition went smoothly and Pozzi’s patience is finally beginning to pay off. At the end of January he recorded 7.56 and 7.57 in Cardiff, surviving two rounds without problems. A week later he recorded his two world leads in Karlsruhe.
“I think things are still coming together,” he says. “This is the first season for a long, long time that I’ve actually been able to hurdle in training. Last year I didn’t do any hurdles in training, just sprinting on grass, trying to protect my feet.”
It has taken some time, but he has learnt how to manage his weaknesses. This weekend, he will line up at the British Indoor Championships in Sheffield before facing the international elite again on 18 February at the Muller Indoor Grand Prix, the final stop on the IAAF World Indoor Tour. Then it is on to the European Indoor Championships where a medal is the big goal.
“It will be really good get a few rounds under my belt, because I have really lacked racing in the past few years,” said Pozzi. “I really feel I can go from strength to strength the more experience I get.
“The hurdles is so technical, there’s a big timing element to it. That’s why you can see hurdlers often peak a bit later in their careers.”
The timing wasn’t quite right for Pozzi in 2012, but with the IAAF World Championships London 2017 on the horizon and some extra metal holding him together, the self-proclaimed ‘terminator’ will be back.
Michelle Sammet for the IAAF