As the latest generation of athletes aged 17 or under look forward to next season’s 8th IAAF World Youth Championships in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, there is already a rich list of those who have gone before them to provide inspiration for their ambition.
Since this event began in Bydgoszcz in 1999 a generation of athletes has progressed through it to the highest levels of the sport. The 200m championship record, for instance, is held by one Usain Bolt, who ran 20.40sec as a 16-year-old – into a minus 1.1mps headwind – to earn gold at Sherbrooke in 2003.
The then World record holder at the distance, Michael Johnson, acknowledged the Jamaican’s potential but feared that he might suffer from being under too much pressure, adding: "It’s all about what he does three, four, five years down the line…"
Well, Bolt seemed to cope reasonably well with that pressure in the years which followed as he became a multiple world and Olympic champion over 100 and 200 metres. But following through on success as a teenager remains the challenge to all the athletes who will gather in Donestk from July 10-14, 2013.
Four years after Bolt’s 200m flourish, another hugely talented sprinter made his mark on the IAAF World Youth Championships – a 14-year-old from Grenada named Kirani James.
At the 2007 World Youth Championships in Ostrava, this youngster earned a silver medal in the 400 and the following year he recorded the fastest 400m ever run by a 15-year-old as he took the World Junior title in 45.70.
James was still young enough to compete in the 2009 World Youth Championships, and he arrived at the venue in Brixen, Italy as a favourite for both the 200 and 400m titles. The confidence in this growing talent was not misplaced as he became the first athlete to win the 200-400m double at these Championships.
The 200m victory was achieved in a personal best of 21.05sec, and the one-lap gold was secured with another personal best – 45.24 – that remains the championship record.
But James indicated the range of his growing ambition in the aftermath of his 400m victory, expressing dissatisfaction that he had missed the World Youth record of 45.19sec set by Obea Moore of the United States in 1979.
"It feels good," he said, "but I think I could have run faster. I am a little bit disappointed to have missed the World Youth best. I wanted a high 44-seconds or something close to that, but I am still happy."
That ambition was still burning as fiercely a year later when James won the 2010 IAAF World Junior 400m title in 45.89. His reaction was that he was, once again, disappointed not to have run faster.
Such was the attitude he carried with him into the following year’s IAAF World Championships in Daegu and the following year’s London 2012 Olympics. From which he returned with two gold medals.
It is a suitably inspiring story for the youngsters now training and dreaming of the glories ahead of them in Donetsk and beyond.