Team GB World Champion Adam Gemili Discovered That Being Underestimated Fuels Success

Britain’s 24-year-old Gold Medallist says that being the underdogs was an asset for Team GB in the London World Championships 4x100 Relay…

When Britain’s 4x100 men’s relay team took on Usain Bolt’s Jamaica and Justin Gatlin’s USA in London’s 2017 World Athletics Championships they weren’t expected to win. In the build up to the race all the focus was on Usain Bolt. The eight-time Olympian Champion and GOAT was hanging up his gold running spikes for good. But losing out to the USA’s controversial 100m champion, Justin Gatlin, meant the Lightning Bolt’s final competitive race would be in the relay, facing Gatlin again and a Team GB side many had written off as bit-part players in a drama that the whole sporting world had tuned in to watch…

What no one expected was for Team GB to nick gold, beating the favourites USA with 2017’s fastest time in the world – in fact no European team had run faster since 1999. But Adam Gemili the former footballer turned Olympian, and European 200m champion, discovered that running to victory was as much down to mental resilience as physical flair.

No-one fancied us to win that race… it gave us a determination to show everyone

Being Underdogs Builds Unity ‘No-one fancied us to win that race… except for us’ Gemili insists. But for the medal-winning sprinter being written off by the media was a spur. ‘We used it to help unify us. We worked on our own performance and knew we had what it takes to win that race. It gave us a determination to show everyone.’ Gemili says that drilling together gave the team a quiet confidence. ‘We knew we had our jobs to do, we knew we had the foot speed and the technique to match every other team on that track. Practice, especially in the handover, which is where the relay is won or lost, was key. Whatever your sport, focusing on getting every element right is vital. We’d only have a couple of seconds, within a 20-metre box, with one of us running flat out at 30mph and the other looking to break away fast, with the world’s fastest runners for competition alongside you and the crowd cheering us on as you’re listening out for your team-mate’s call. It’s tough to get it right.’

Learn How To Access The Zone Gemili ran the second leg in London and says he knew the team could win Gold from the moment he handed over the baton. ‘I knew I’d run a good leg and I could see we had the momentum. Athletics is a very individual sport and we’d only come together on the world stage as a relay team at the culmination of the championships.’ Gemili consults regularly with renowned sports psychologist Dr Steve Peters for advice on mental strength. ‘He makes things clear, helps to focus my thoughts. He reminds you to set yourself into an autopilot mode – where you train so meticulously and so often that much of what you need to do from the start to the finish, including the technical points like the exchange, becomes automatic. He helps by instilling confidence in my abilities and getting my mind into The Zone.’

Be Inspired By Greatness Rather than feeling oppressed by the shadow of Usain Bolt, Gemini has used the man’s greatness to drive his own career. ‘I’ve been very fortunate to be running at a time when we have had one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen: Usain Bolt. He has been around to aspire to and also to talk to. He told me very early on in my career to enjoy my running and to do all I can around it to ensure I keep doing it and enjoying it.’

Gemili also credits Bolt for his injury-prevention routine. ‘It’s wisdom that I’ve heeded. You have to devote time to warming up and recovering properly if you want to keep enjoying the sport you do. I used to have a lot of trouble with sleeping especially, but now I follow the advice – I take my own pillow wherever I go, I have a sleep routine, I turn off the laptop or put my phone on ‘night mode’ to reduce the disruption. Quality sleep is crucial to your muscle recovery, your energy levels and your mental focus.’

Don’t Be Crushed By Failure Gemili qualified for the men’s 200 metres final at the Rio Olympics in 2016 – crossing the line alongside Christophe Lemaitre and Churandy Martina. A photo finish revealed that six thousandths of a second split the three runners and meant Gemili missed out on the bronze. ‘You don’t learn from the successes, you learn from your failures,’ he says. ‘Being in those moments gives you the motivation to pick yourself up. It affirms that there are no guarantees in any sport. You learn from what went wrong before, you train to ensure the risk of it happening again is minimised, but you don’t spend too much time thinking about it – the career is too short and it tarnishes that all-important enjoyment of doing it.’

I do power drills of squats and snatches to develop those plyometric muscles

Realise Your Strengths And Work On Weaknesses Gemili has as an unusual nickname for a sprinter: ‘I’m quite a small guy which can be intimidating when you’re on the track against some of the runners I face. I’m also known as ‘No-abs Adam’ in the team, because I’m not super lean like some. I’ve no discernible six-pack and I can put on weight just by looking at a cake!’ But recognising the areas for improvement, managing the genetic factors and playing to his strengths are all contributing factors to his achievements. ‘I know to eat sensibly starting with eggs and toast for breakfast, having chicken and rice at lunch and meat or fish with steamed vegetables for dinner. I know not to eat sweets and chocolate or anything that can work against me – but I don’t let it overshadow my training. I eat sensibly and still have the odd cheeky Nandos, though again it’s the healthier options – chicken with rice and peas.’

When he’s not on the track Gemili works on strength and conditioning and advises all runners to follow suit. ‘I’ll play five-a-side football in the off-season and then during the season I’ll hit the gym three times a week, for a couple of hours at a time. I do lighter weights for greater reps along with plenty of power drills like squats and snatches to develop and maintain those plyometric muscles. It’s tough, but this summer it really paid off!’

WHAT NEXT? If you’re curious about where Gemili gets his performance wisdom, then check out his sports psychologist and author of The Chimp Paradox, Dr Steve Peters.

Adam Gemili is an ambassador for QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on October 21st