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Page last updated at 12:02 GMT, Thursday, 3 March 2011

All eyes on GB's teenage sprinter Jodie Williams

Venue: Palais Omnisports, Paris Date: 4-6 March Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, Red Button and BBC Sport website (UK only); listen live on BBC 5 live sports extra - Full coverage details

Williams proud to be making senior debut

By Jessica Creighton
BBC Olympic sports reporter

It's been two weeks since Hertfordshire schoolgirl Jodie Williams became the focal point of British athletics.

The 17-year-old sprinter raced her way to the 60m indoor title at the UK Trials and Championships, a distance she apparently isn't very good at.

After her 7.24-second personal best time in Sheffield, the teenage sprinter makes her senior debut at the European Indoor Championships in Paris on Friday.

British women's sprinting hasn't looked this exciting for a while.

Jodie Williams
Could Jodie Williams herald a revival in British women's sprinting?

Great Britain has never had a female 100m or 200m Olympic champion, and has not even won a medal in these events since the 1960 Games, when Dorothy Hyman took silver in the 100m and bronze over 200m.

Kathy Cook was a dominant force in the 1980s - winning a clutch of European, Commonwealth and world medals and Olympic bronze in the 400m in 1984 - but she never managed an Olympic medal over the shorter distances.

The fact that she still holds the British records in the 400m and 200m - and her 100m record of 11.10 sec was only broken in 2008 by Montell Douglas - shows the absence of world-class talent in British women's sprinting.

As a result, Williams' performance at the Euro Indoors will inevitably be closely scrutinised as athletics fans contemplate whether Britain's lengthy wait for a women's Olympic sprint medal is about to come to an end.

But Williams' coach, Mike McFarlane - a former 200m Commonwealth champion - insists there is no pressure on his young athlete to win a medal and warns against getting too excited too soon.

"The performance is irrelevant. It's the fact that she's going to a major championship and experiencing an event. She's going to get some valuable experience over a distance she's not very good at. It will be a very good learning curve for her," he told BBC Sport.

"Once a sportsperson begins to believe their own hype they lose all sense of reality - they think they become invincible and they don't train as hard. "

Running that fast that young doesn't necessarily do you any favours

Jeanette Kwakye, GB sprinter

McFarlane, who has previously coached GB sprinters Dwain Chambers and John Regis, has acted cautiously with Williams' career so far.

He recently decided not to send Williams to the outdoor World Championships in Daegu, Korea in August, much to the dismay of UK Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee.

"I'm not protecting Jodie from anything in particular, I'm just doing what I feel is necessary for her growth at this stage in her career as an athlete and a human being," McFarlane said.

"Jodie's got a lot of stuff going on. She's 17, she's got her studies, she's got track, her friends, the boy element is coming into it - she's got to balance a lot of things."

Williams, world junior 100m champion, appears to be relaxed about her lack of senior-team experience despite the London Olympics being just 16 months away.

"I'm not ready to just jet off 1,000 miles away and compete at that high level. I'm not ready to compete against those people yet so thought I'd stick to my own age group," she said.

"Obviously the Olympics will be a massive step up but because it's at home and my family will be there supporting me, I think it's just something I would go along to and have fun with."

In 2004, Abi Oyepitan became the first British woman for 24 years to reach an Olympic sprint final, a feat repeated by Jeanette Kwakye in 2008.

Kwakye understands why Williams is being held back at the moment.

"We have a massive talent in Jodie Williams at the moment. When I was 17 I wasn't even running - I liked to party and go out with my friends. I wasn't making senior teams and breaking records," she explained.

The sprints are probably some of the hardest events to get a medal in, whether it's male or female

Mike McFarlane, coach

"There's a danger of her going to Daegu and doing too well. If she doesn't live up to [the media's] expectations the damage could be great. Running that fast that young doesn't necessarily do you any favours."

Kwakye may well be justified in her concerns about young female athletes doing too much too soon. The 27-year-old is the only athlete from her junior sprinting group to have made the transition to the senior team.

"They all dropped out," she said.

"For a young girl there's nothing really attractive about getting involved in British women's sprinting. There's always the perception that she's got too much muscle or she looks a bit too strong. I try to explain to young girls that there is a really positive side to it."

As the showpiece events of track-and-field competition, the sprints will always be highly competitive.

"The sprints are probably some of the hardest events to get a medal in, whether it's male or female. It's such a dominant and hard event to take on," McFarlane said.

Britain's male sprinters have enjoyed greater success than their female counterparts, albeit sporadically, with Olympic 100m champions in 1924, 1980 and most recently Linford Christie - the first British sprinter to break 10 seconds for 100m - in 1992.

In the longer-form sprint, Britain's women have staked their claim on the world stage. Katherine Merry won an Olympic bronze medal over 400m at the 2004 Games. And Londoner Christine Ohuruogu is current 400m Olympic champion.

Kwakye is excited by Williams stepping up to the senior squad but stresses the importance of success over a whole career, rather than just one event.

"Is she going to be here in 10 years time? When she's 27 will she be an Olympic champion? Will she be a record holder? Hopefully, yes," she said.

"I trust [the coaching team] know what they're doing. I can't wait to have her on the senior team and run alongside her."

see also
Ennis pulls out of Euro Indoors
28 Feb 11 |  Athletics
Williams' coach defends decision
14 Feb 11 |  Athletics
YSPOTY contenders: Jodie Williams Q&A
30 Nov 10 |  School Report
Athletics on the BBC
21 Apr 11 |  Athletics

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