Sprint sensation Yemi Mary John wants to use winning SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award as a platform for the Paris Olympics.
The 20-year-old from Woodford enjoyed a sparkling debut on the senior stage by helping Great Britain to mixed 4x400m silver and women’s 4x400m bronze at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.
John took top spot in 2023 after being shortlisted in the top 10 for SportsAid’s flagship One-to-Watch Award, which recognises Britain’s brightest sporting prospects, for the second consecutive year.
She follows in the footsteps of Olympic champions Tom Daley and Alex Yee and Paralympic gold medallist Hollie Arnold, who have all won the annual award since 2006.
And John, who was presented with the award by former Olympic 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu in London this week, said: “It’s a really good feeling and it’s great to have had this season’s achievements recognised.
“I feel like it sets me up for a great trajectory of success and hopefully I will follow in the footsteps of those before.
“I feel like I’m already on the radar especially because it is my first senior season, I have not only just been competing but coming away with medals.
“They caught me off guard with my award which was a lovely surprise. It came with a crown too which took me back a bit.
“The award was presented by Christine [Ohuruogu] who has done amazing things, not only in the sport but in the 400m specifically, so just to have her recognise me and be able to be in a room with such great and successful people and getting on par with them is exciting.
“I appreciated her being there for it.”
Two-time world champion Ohuruogu, who grabbed Olympic glory in Beijing back in 2008, said: “I think Yemi’s fantastic.
“I am really blown away by how young she is and how much she does, not just on the track, but outside track. I think it’s a great inspiration for her peers, and for older people, that you can juggle the two successfully.
“I’m hoping that this Award will continue to inspire her to keep reaching and wanting to be the athlete that causes a stir and mixes things up.
“I think the 400 metres in this country is in a really great place both in the men’s and the women’s. And I think that’s what’s great about Yemi – she does really keep the girls on their toes. And not only that, I’ve also noticed that it inspires the other younger athletes.
“Because when you see someone else who is new and young coming through, it gives other people the opportunity to believe that they can do the same thing and that they can create an impact. I think she should be really proud of herself.
“I was a recipient of a SportsAid award not too long ago….a very, very, very, very many few years ago! The sports world can get very, very crowded, and very, very noisy. So the athletes are working away, often in their own pockets around the country, and they can sometimes feel like they’re doing all this hard work and nobody cares. I think that it’s really nice for the athletes to feel like they’ve been seen, they’ve been recognised and that their hard work hasn’t gone in vain.”
The tradition of John wearing a crown goes back to 2022 when she became World U20 champion in the women’s 400m, winning in Cali in the second fastest time by a British U20 athlete.
She backed up that title with victory at the European U23 Championships this year, beating 800m star Keely Hodgkinson in Espoo.
On the senior stage, she showed a sign of things to come by placing third in the 400m at the British Championships, before being selected for the World Championships.
John brought Great Britain home on the final leg of the mixed relay before running in the women’s 4x400m heats to leave Hungary with two medals.
She added: “The crown took me back to Worlds and Europeans as well.
“I had forgotten the crown, but it was nice being able to bring my personality alive on the track and my teammates and the audience can be immersed in.
“It allows me to enjoy the sport.
“My personality on track definitely contrasts my personality in person on a normal day.
“I’m more relaxed on a normal day but I’m outgoing and confident on track and ready to win every time I step onto it.
“I just love the competitiveness and the environment of being surrounded by like-minded people who all just want to do extremely well.”
John trains and studies in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California and says the facilities, in conjunction with the weather, are helping her to perform at her best.
And the Woodford native is confident a strong NCAA season can propel her to one of her many goals – the Olympics.
“It is an Olympic year next year, Paris has to be my first and biggest target,” she said. “Obviously performing in the NCAA’s season as well will be key to making sure I appear on the senior scene on an individual basis as well as in the relays.
“I just need to keep on doing what I have been doing and ramp it up. It’s been working pretty well so far so just doing that times 10.
“I don’t like to put a lid on my goals by giving one specific number or title but I’m definitely wanting more medals, more golds, more Olympics, more records even.
“I want to grow as an athlete and a person.”
SportsAid’s annual One-to-Watch Award is backed by Royal Bank of Canada – a long-standing supporter of the charity celebrating 10 years of partnership in 2023. Each of the top 10 shortlisted athletes have received cash boosts and special in-person visits at their training environments to celebrate their achievements