We caught up with the triple-jump ace, Abazz Shayaam-Smith, to find out how life in the run up to a home Commonwealth Games is panning out.
Generally, the talented sportspeople we interview for these pages have been beavering away at their chosen event since they were still in single figures, so we were surprised by Abazz. She only stepped on to an athletics track as a 15-year-old – a reluctant one at that – so her rise to the top has been rapid.
Now Abazz has been chosen by Team England to receive one of only five Sir John Hanson Young Talent Scholarships designed to help talented young athletes progress in the run up to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The scholarship of £10,000 supports the youngsters in their quest to achieve their sporting goals and for Abazz, means she can really focus. There’s a small matter of studying for her degree alongside training, but as one of her heroes, Dina Asher-Smith managed it pretty well, Abazz is using the world champion as inspiration.
MUM’S THE WORD
Abazz was always active as a child, competing in the likes of Thai boxing, netball and semi-professional dancing, but aged 14 she gave up sport as is the path of a lot of teenage girls. Abazz’s mum found it hard to watch her daughter do nothing for nine months and one day marched her off to local athletics club Birchfield Harriers.
Abazz recalls: “She told me I had to do something. I really didn’t want to go and I cried!” Abazz stayed in the club’s academy for three months then started jumping with a coach focusing on long jump initially. She says: “Long jump wasn’t my thing!” Triple jump it turns out is Abazz’s thing although there were some physical challenges to overcome. She explains: “Triple jump is difficult. I’m really tall and lacked co-ordination. By the age of 13, I was 5ft 9in and by 15, I was 5ft 11in. I was tall and thin, so strength work was really important.”
The following year, Abazz entered the English Schools championship and came third. In 2017, at the national championships and ranked 15, the aim was to finish in the top eight. She came away with a silver medal. In 2018, Abazz was crowned English schools champion and U20 English champion which is an incredible feat in such a short space of time.
Now studying geography at University College London (UCL), Abazz is juggling a lot. Training six days a week – sometimes twice a day – with recovery on Sunday, she’s putting in the same hours as a full-time job in addition to her studies. Training in Uxbridge means a one-and-a-half-hour journey just to get there. Sometimes she gets home at 9.30pm for recovery and stretching. It’s a different university experience to most under graduates and she says can be a bit lonely at times, but she’s totally committed to making it.
UCL has been super-supportive. As an athlete scholar, Abazz enjoys free gym membership, access to physiotherapists, a nutritionist and psychologist. There are just 18 athlete scholars at the university each with a personalised sports co-ordinator which helps a lot. The £10,000 Sir John Hanson Scholarship from Team England at least means she doesn’t have to work on top of that which was Abazz’s reality last year meaning that recovery time suffered.
SKY’S THE LIMIT
Last year there were some niggling injuries, but she’s back on form. It’s the second year with her new coach and they have an ‘honest relationship’ that’s working well. Immediate goals include improving placing at the senior national championships, competing more abroad on the international circuit and putting less pressure on individual competitions.
Long term, the sky’s the limit. Competing at a home games in Birmingham at the stadium Abazz trained in for four years would mean a lot. She says: “To look around Alexander Stadium and see my whole family there would be incredible.”