Yemi Mary John’s golden gamble pays off with world 400m glory

Yemi Mary John was crowned U20 world champion in the 400m at the Colombian championships.

Yemi Mary John was crowned U20 world champion in the 400m at the Colombian championships.

By Tom Harle

Not all athletes buy a tiara just to associate it with a gold medal at the World Championships.

But Yemi Mary John isn’t just any athlete – and her gamble paid off when she was crowned world under-20 champion in the 400m.

“I was protesting,” she said.

“For me, it was just about having faith in myself and believing that this was what I wanted to do. I knew how I wanted to play and make it exist.

“Who knows, one day he might make another appearance!”

It was Britain’s only individual gold medal at August’s World Rally in Cali, Colombia, marking the young Woodford of stardom.

The 19-year-old put in a consummate league performance, cutting her personal best from 52.42 seconds to 51.72 in the semi-final and 51.50 in the final.

“I think in that first round, honestly, I surprised myself,” she said.

“I knew I was physically ready but it didn’t take me long. I wanted this season to go to Worlds confident. I was not counted as part of the competition.

“It was still important for me to stay calm during the semi-finals and finals and to stay focused on the goal. The first round gave me the motivation I needed.

Some athletes’ journeys appear smooth on the surface, but John’s has been anything but smooth.

The one-round star bottomed out during the lockdown, lacking competitive direction and managing the challenge of a move to study and train at the University of Nottingham.

“It was definitely an interesting fit,” she said. “It was quite difficult, I didn’t know where I was in terms of my physical condition. I was basically training and couldn’t use the facilities.

Yemi Mary John has now been nominated for SportsAid's prestigious One-to-Watch award.

Yemi Mary John has now been nominated for SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch award.

“I had nobody around me and I was quite alone. There were times when I wanted to stop training because I was tired.

“I can’t say that I’ve always been motivated, but you always have to stay disciplined.

“It took a lot of readjusting and support, I was grateful for all the support I needed to stay on track.”

This winter, John will move to the United States and accept a prestigious athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California where she will compete on the NCAA Tour.

His superb 2022 was rewarded with a nomination for SportsAid’s annual One-to-Watch Award, shortlisted in the top 10 from a group of 1,000 young athletes supported by the charity in 60 different sports.

The award was launched in 2006 to highlight the outstanding achievements of Britain’s brightest young hopefuls, with Tom Daley, Hollie Arnold, Courtney Tulloch, Amber Hill, Morgan Lake and Alex Yee among past winners.

John, who received his SportsAid support from Gateley this year, said: “I am very grateful and very happy about this. It’s nice to reap the rewards of all the hard work.

“Being next to these names gives me such a boost of confidence and hope.”

The winner of SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch award will be revealed at the charity’s Celebrate the Next event, supported by Royal Bank of Canada, in London on Thursday November 17. Please visit for more information.

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