13th May 2021


In a year that saw all sportsmen and women hit hard by the lack of competition, 2020 could have left young British athletes worried about their future within athletics. However, 86 young stars could sleep easy again when, in December, British Athletics announced their 2021 Futures Academy Programme. The programme is comprised of Olympic and Paralympic members who will be supported by British Athletics and backed by Nike.

The programme originally listed 70 athletes for 2020, all of whom have been retained for this year alongside an additional 16. This includes hammer thrower Charlotte Payne (Paul Dickenson; Reading) and endurance athlete Jake Smith (James Thie; Cardiff), who have both moved up the UK all-time age-group rankings, plus eight others.

It won’t be long until we get to see three Futures athletes in action on the big stage. Sprinter Amy Hunt (Joe McDonnell; Charnwood) and middle-distance runners Piers Copeland (Robert Smith; Wimborne) and George Mills (Jon Bigg; Brighton Phoenix) as well as Jake Smith who will all be hoping to throw their names into the international mix when they hit the ground running at the Müller Grand Prix Gateshead on 23rd May.

Hunt has already proven herself throughout the age categories and currently holds the under-18 200m world record having dominated the field at the European Athletics Under-20 Championships in 2019. Despite her youth, she is no stranger to success at international level and at the same event won the 4x100m relay before being named by the British Athletics Writers’ Association as the ‘young female athlete of 2019.’ The accolades continued coming and in early 2020, British Vogue listed her as one of their ‘Faces Set To Define The Decade Ahead.’

The 18-year-old sprinter is now hot on the heels of world 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith (John Blackie; Blackheath & Bromley) and the clash between the two of them could be one of the highlights of the upcoming Gateshead event. She is certain to be one to watch out for and, with the support of the Futures Academy, her successes are sure to continue at national and international level.

“The Futures Programme has given me some great support during an important few years of my development,” she said. “It has allowed me to meet other athletes going through similar phases in their athletics journey and challenged me to think critically about how I was approaching my sport.”

She is not shying away from the challenges ahead and is determined to make her mark in a field that boasts some of the world’s top athletes adding: “It’s great to be competing at Gateshead this year; not only because I get to race against world class athletes, such as Dina, Shelly-Ann (Fraser-Pryce) and Elaine (Thompson-Herah), but because I get to do that alongside the likes of George and Piers who are on the programme with me.”

When it comes to the future of British middle-distance running, it is impossible to overlook Copeland and Mills. Both have been recognised by the Futures Programme and will join Hunt in Gateshead later this month. Copeland, who recently set a Welsh record in the 1500m will be keen to continue his form and make his mark having been added later to the Programme.

The 22-year-old is revelling in the chance to showcase his skills in Gateshead and said: “I am delighted to be given the opportunity to compete in the Gateshead Diamond League over 1500m against the world’s best.

“Being part of the Futures Programme has given me the support and confidence I need to take the next step up the ladder of success. It’s great to know someone else believes in you and it gives an athlete a big boost. I intend to make the most of being on home soil with the extra advantage that brings to really take it to the big boys and see what I can do.”

Standing in his way could well be his compatriot Mills. The 21-year-old became the British champion at the 2020 Müller British Athletics Championships but with Copeland in the field, will not be resting on his laurels. Mills is the son of ex-England, Leeds and Manchester City full-back Danny Mills and has been on the Futures Programme since 2018.

The young runner was also keen to share his thanks for the opportunities given by the Programme as well as the support of others throughout his athletics endeavours.

“I’d like to thank my coaches Jon Bigg, Dan Stepney and everyone who has supported me in my career so far, for helping get me into this position,” he said.

“Being on the British Athletics Futures Programme has been key to my development as an athlete. In the current climate the travel and logistical support is invaluable as getting to and from competitions is far from simple these days.

“As Gateshead will be my Diamond League debut it feels special to be able to do that on home soil. Funnily enough Gateshead was where I won my only English Schools title over the 800m back in 2015, which I think makes the experience mean that little bit more!”

Before the Diamond League events get going in Gateshead, the first hour or so of the timetable sees a number of para-athletics events taking place and these will also include a number of Futures Academy members such as sprinters Emmanuel Oyinbo-Coker (Leon Baptiste; Newham & Essex Beagles), Hetty Bartlett (Denis Costello; City of Norwich), Victoria Baskett (Katie Jones; University of Sheffield) and Kirsty Taylor (Joe McDonnell / Morgan Jones; DSW Para Academy).

Para sprinters Alex Thomson (Chris Baillie; Victoria Park City of Glasgow), Ross Paterson (John Kinder / Alasdair Barker; Red Star) and John Bridge (Darrell Maynard; Cardiff) are also racing 200m in Gateshead – an important competition ahead of representing Britain in the WPA European Championships in Bydgoszcz on June 1-5. The 400m runner Columba Blango (Chris Zah; Shaftesbury Barnet), a medal contender at the European Championships, will also be running.

Dan Wagner, Olympic Performance Pathway manager at British Athletics, shared his enthusiasm of the athletes’ potential and is now looking forward to seeing them performing alongside some of the biggest names in world athletics.

“It’s fantastic to see several Futures athletes having the opportunity to compete at Gateshead and having the experience to step up and compete against a senior international field,” he said.

“The Futures Programme has been redeveloped from previous years, aiming to add value to the athlete and coach plan, and through additional holistic support and experiences, provide the opportunities to develop the skills, abilities and behaviours required for senior long term international success.

“Many of the current Futures athletes and their coaches who were identified in 2017/18, have highlighted their potential on the senior international stage this year, with Keely Hodgkinson (Trevor Painter; Leigh), Isabelle Boffey (Luke Gunn; Enfield & Haringey) and Holly Mills (Laura Turner-Alleyne; Andover) at the European Indoors, it’s great to see!”

While Hunt, Mills and Copeland are the only Futures Programme athletes competing in Gateshead, the bumper summer of athletics is sure to see more stars of the future in action. We may not be seeing all of them at this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo, but keep an eye out for these Futures’ athletes over the coming years.