Nia Wedderburn-Goodison, born to run
An interview with the most crystalline talent of British speed
Speed is exaltation, safety, freedom. Sensations that are sublimed when speed blends with youth, with the physical and mental freshness of a very young pearl of the athletics tracks.
Nia Wedderburn-Goodison is a predestined one: at just 16 years old she became the British under 20 champion of the 100 meters, crossing the finish line before athletes much more mature than her.
She is a growing star, already compared to world champion Dina Asher-Smith. A determined girl who has clear ahead of her the path to the five Olympic circles and sporting success.
The wonderful portraits of Paul Calver accompany our chat with a girl born to race, with a young sprinter who makes determination and mentality her cornerstones.
How did you start running and why?
I was five when I won my first race against all the girls in my year group. I also beat all the boys. Looking back at it now, it was only a tiny school event with the lanes drawn in chalk but I felt really proud of my achievement. Shortly after my parents signed me up for an athletics club so that I could train properly. Already after my first session I was moved up from the beginner’s class to a more advanced level one by my coach Andre Williams. He has helped me develop and fulfil my potential and is still my coach to this day.
Even at that young age I knew running was something I really loved doing.
At the age of five, I didn’t even know to consider running as ‘athletics’. My dreams of going to the Olympics and breaking records were distant and undiscovered at this point but there was something special about the feeling of improving that worked as a fuel to keep me going, not to mention the little things like the spongy feel of a real athletics track beneath my fingers at the starting line. It’s oddly satisfying.
What sensations does speed give you?
Sprinting exhilarates me. Putting my spikes on and stepping onto the track with the mindset to run as fast as I can simply welcomes a rush of adrenaline that makes me feel confident and free.
What are your sports and non-sports reference points?
There is a long list of people and athletes who I look to for inspiration – too many to name perhaps. I am influenced by Usain Bolt for not only his insane record-breaking times, but his dominance of the last era in athletics. It is inspiring to witness somebody win gold medals in the 100m and 200m for three straight Olympics. This inspires me to not just work hard for a couple of years, but to work to stay on top for as long as humanly possible.
Despite the fact that we didn’t practice in the same discipline, I am a big fan of Kobe Bryant’s mindset; famously dubbed as the ‘Mamba Mentality’. I have constantly watched his interviews and read his book every night before I compete. This has helped me to understand the task of trying to be better every present day than I was the day before.
My family has also played a huge role in my athletics career, because whenever I am at a competition, I’m thinking about my mum in the stands with her professional camera, preparing to capture each moment of my performance everytime that I compete. I think of my dad who manages my race entries and makes sure I get to competitions on time. This makes me put my all into every training session, so that I am competing at such a high level where I can help them financially.
I really appreciated my sister not minding me missing her 13th birthday celebration in order to compete at a track meet. She has supported me immensely through being my accountability partner. We play a little game where I have to send her a video of me doing my exercises every day. If I miss a day out of laziness, I have to give her a pound.
How do you live your condition as a young athletic prodigy and the comparison with Dina Asher-Smith?
It is extremely humbling to be compared to such an amazing athlete who has broken so many barriers for British Athletics and someone who I look up to. People might expect things from me, and that is fine because I expect things from myself too. This only helps me to work hard with the purpose to fulfil my expectations.
What are your goals and hopes for the continuation of your career?
Going to the Olympics and winning Gold has been an immense dream of mine for a long time. With 2024 approaching in three years I would like to make the Olympic team at the age of 19.
The 100 and 200-metre world record for women has been standing for a long time because of Flo Jo’s incredible performances, and breaking them is a fierce goal of mine that would require a lot of grit. But for now, I’m bringing myself through my athletics journey day by day.
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