Few people have been able to blunt the stellar rise of Amy Hunt, the brilliant teenager who is so quick she holds the under-18s world record over 200m and so smart she is heading to Cambridge University in October. But last month the education secretary, Gavin Williamson – and a dodgy computer algorithm – came closer than most by downgrading Hunt’s A-level results to leave her dreams of studying English at Corpus Christi in a hideous holding pattern.
Hunt almost wore out the refresh button on her computer before finding out from Ucas, the admissions agency, that her college would accept her regardless. This week, she overcame a second challenge by passing her driving test. But another examination awaits on Friday as she attempts to win her first senior British Athletics title, over 100m, and lay down a marker on the journey towards next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Juggling a degree course at Cambridge with being an elite athlete would leave many feeling daunted. But Hunt, who turned 18 in May, is relishing what lies ahead. “I live my life very chaotically at times,” she says, laughing. “I have to deal with a lot of stress both from academia and the sport so I’d like to think that I thrive under pressure and I embrace it. It was the same in my Cambridge interview. I really like performing to my ultimate potential and pushing myself to see how far I can go.”
Hunt plans to study and train at Cambridge during the week before returning to Loughborough to see her coach at weekends. A call from the world 4x100m relay silver medallist Adam Gemili convinced her it was possible to thrive. “I had an amazing call with Adam about travelling to and from university, being prepared and really being on top of planning,” she says. “Over the years I have developed a few coping mechanisms to manage stress and I have just got to push myself to do my best in as many fields as possible.”
That said, Hunt’s normal coping mechanisms briefly failed her when she feared she would miss out on Cambridge. “When I was in the moment it felt awful,” she admits. “I was initially knocked down a grade and ended up waiting for Ucas Track for about 50 minutes. I had all these nerves and was trying to refresh the page and it kept crashing. But then at the end it was complete euphoria.”
For now, Hunt’s focus is on finishing the truncated 2020 season with a bang. She emphatically advertised her blossoming talent last year by running 22.42sec over 200m, a time that not only broke the women’s under-18 world record – the men’s version is held by Usain Bolt – but was the third fastest by a British woman and would have won a bronze medal behind Dina Asher-Smith at the 2019 world championships.
She missed that event in Doha through injury and has barely raced in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but she believes the postponement of the Olympics by a year will give her more time to make a mark in Tokyo. “I’ve been in the gym a lot and another year means I’ll naturally be fitter, stronger and faster,” she says. “It allows me to feel I can get there and compete on the world level against some really incredible girls.”
In the past most British sprinters have been intimidated by the Jamaicans and Americans, but Hunt says Asher-Smith has shown that they are beatable. “Dina has done an amazing job of proving that British sprinters – and British women particularly – can compete on that world stage and win global gold,” she says. “I’ve been inspired by that and hopefully I can follow in her footsteps. You have to focus on yourself. If you are getting too scared about your competition then you’re not doing the right thing.”
Sadly, Asher-Smith, like many of Britain’s biggest names will be missing the UK championships at Manchester on Friday and Saturday, which means Hunt will be one of the main attractions. Not that she minds. “I definitely feel a sense of pressure,” she says. “But I always like it. I embrace it. My philosophy is always to go out and enjoy the race.
“I feel like I am progressing to that next stage of my life, as cringey as it sounds, with going to university and passing my driving test and moving away from home. And I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.”
Britain’s top athletes return this weekend at the Müller British Athletics Championships with live coverage on BBC2 from 6pm-9pm BST on Friday and on BBC1 1.15pm-4.30pm on Saturday. For more information visit www.britishathletics.org.uk