Andrew Pozzi looks on after the 110m hurdles semi finals in London (© Getty Images)
After another turbulent season, Andrew Pozzi has had enough of asking 'what if?'. The British sprint hurdler tells SPIKES what's next.
Andrew Pozzi’s assessment of a “near perfect” 2017 indoor season is an understatement. He opened his campaign with a world-leading 7.56 over the 60m hurdles in Cardiff, posted four further world leading times, stayed undefeated in nine indoor races and capped it all with the European indoor title. You can’t get much nearer to perfect.
“Outdoors promised so much and delivered…,” he pauses and to find the right words, “…not a lot for me.”
Pozzi, 25, has had to deal with more setbacks on the track than most athletes experience in a lifetime. 2017 was only the Briton’s second full season back after “five or six” foot surgeries wrote him off for the best part of four years.
He first announced his talent to the world when he qualified for the London 2012 Olympics as a 19-year-old, prompting world indoor record holder Colin Jackson to hail him as one of the event’s future stars. Yet his debut Olympic tilt was derailed by a hamstring injury, while the subsequent seasons have been defined by surgical intervention.
The London 2017 World Championships looked the perfect opportunity to set the record straight in front of a home crowd. And, following that blistering start indoors, Pozzi looked to have got his timing just right on the outdoor circuit. He recorded PBs at Diamond Leagues in Eugene (13.19 =PB) and Paris (13.14), and gained valuable race experience he’d been lacking over the final hurdles. It left him brimming with confidence.
“I thought after Paris I got everything sorted and thought, ‘right, this is it’,” he recalls. “You could have hooked me up to a lie detector and asked me if I thought I’d win a medal in London. I really felt that it was finally going to be me this year.”
Then, with just five weeks until the world championships heats, he tore his hip flexor. Distaster. Pozzi had to pull out of his remaining races and didn’t hurdle for three weeks. His morale was shot.
“I was standing on the start line in London and thought to myself, ‘I haven’t done my event for the last five weeks now’,” he admits. “It’s such a technical event. Hurdles is one of the only events where you go from first to last like that,” he claps for emphasis, “and it’s over.
“In the field events you get several rounds; flat events [and] track events you don’t see as much of a difference. In the hurdles, you don’t lose a hundredth or two hundredth, you go from first all the way to the back to fourth, fifth, last.”
Yet despite the setback in the lead-up, his world championships campaign got off to a promising start. He comfortably won his heat in 13.28. In the semis, he was leading until hurdle nine and in contention for one of two automatic qualifier spots. Then things fell apart. Pozzi sent the penultimate hurdle flying and was swallowed up by the field. He again clocked 13.28, finishing fourth, one hundredth of a second behind Devon Allen, who became the fastest hurdler not to qualify for a global final, such was the depth in London.
It was a case of déjà vu: twelve months prior Pozzi failed to qualify for the Olympic final in Rio. The heartache and disappointment he’d experienced then returned in an instant. He tried to defy his demons, putting the bitter disappointment to one side and lining up at the Birmingham Diamond League the following week, only to run his slowest race of the season.
“After London I was, I just wasn’t myself. You could see my heart just wasn’t there,” he admits.
He ran just one more race, choosing instead to reflect on the years of frustration. Between his first Olympic outing in August 2012 and his return from injury in May 2016, Pozzi had only raced over 110m hurdles once. In comparison, most of his rivals averaged ten races in each of those four years.
“If I’m really honest, I’m just still catching up on outdoor racing. It’s tough to describe to people that aren’t familiar with the event – I know every hurdler and hurdles coach will say ‘completely agree’ – but you never really run as fast in training as you do in competition,” he explains.
While Pozzi has shown his strength indoors, it is outdoors that he feels he has a point to prove.
“I was really frustrated [with 2017] because, again, I came away thinking, ‘I’ve still not shown what I am capable of’. And I think some people can see that, other people obviously can’t.”
It’s his big mission to prove the doubters wrong in 2018. Last year was Pozzi’s most consistent since he was a teen. He completed 13 races over the 110m hurdles this year, finishing the season ranked eighth in the world.
He and his coach, Benke Blomkvist, have worked out “a masterplan” that fits around all three major events on the calendar next year: the IAAF World Indoor Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships. In any other season, he’d focus on indoors and outdoors individually, but with the Gold Coast hosting the Commonwealths in April, longer hurdles will be incorporated during winter training.
“My problem is not a case of speed endurance. I run over-distance in training and do quite well,” Pozzi explains. “But when it comes to racing it’s just about controlling that speed at the back-end. The only way I could do it was through racing and that’s where you saw me racing a lot this year.”
Next season will also – hopefully – see him fulfil an ambition he’s wanted to fulfil for several years.
“I’ve been desperate – absolutely desperate – for two years to run some flat races,” he declares. With Omar McLeod having taken the title of fastest hurdler over 100m flat last year, and Devon Allen keen to take on the 200m next year, we could be in for some exciting races even without barriers.
For now, though, Pozzi’s given himself a break before fully attacking the 2018 season. He needed it after London.
“It’s tough to describe how much of an effect it had on me because that was everything to me,” he admits of chasing a world champs medal.
Luckily for the Stratford-Upon-Avon athlete, next year’s world indoors will take place in Birmingham, just a short drive from home. He knows the track inside out, having raced there all his life. After disappointment in London in 2012 and in 2017, Birmingham 2018 would be the perfect place to show that third time’s a charm.
Pozzi is one of ten athletes supported by the Sky Sports Scholarship Programme