Herne Hill Harriers sprinting sensation Marvin Popoola has the potential to be among the best in the world, according to his coach.
Les Johnson has guided the 18-year-old to a succession of county and national gold medals since the pair came together in 2010.
Most recently, Popoola claimed the South of England AA titles over 100m (10.60 seconds) and 200m (21.06secs) last weekend at Crystal Palace – although both were wind assisted.
Qualification for next month’s World Junior Championships is within Popoola’s reach, and he goes to the England Championships this weekend, as well as the British Championships at the end of the month, looking for qualifying times (100m – 10.50secs, 200m – 21.00secs).
However, should the former St Thomas the Apostle College pupil not succeed, Johnson is convinced his time will come.
“When Marvin first came to the club, he ran the 100m in 11.80secs, and this year he ran 10.58secs, his progression is phenomenal,” he said.
“His forte is the 200m though, and he can go all the way in that, he can be among the greatest this country has produced.
“He is very strong, but he reads a race so well.
“In the early days, we would discuss how to approach a particular race, but now he does that on his own during the race itself.
“He knows when to hold back from the leaders or when to get level, and he knows when to go for the line.
“At an indoor competition recently, he ran three races in three completely different styles always adapting to his opponents.”
He added: “After the South of Englands at the weekend, a fellow coach asked what Marvin was doing there.
“I was a little perplexed, but this coach said Marvin should be training in the States or Jamaica.
“And he was right, that is just how good Marvin is.”
While it is not a rags to riches story just yet, Johnson believes that athletics have given Popoola a course in life otherwise closed to him.
Golden boy: Marvin Popoola, centre, picks up his 100m winners’ medal at Crystal Palace
He said: “When I first picked up Marvin, he was desperate to express himself through athletics, but he was in a social situation where it was difficult.
“He does not come from a privileged background. He lives in Peckham and has virtually no money. He could not afford his spikes or competition entry fees.
“The club and I have been sponsoring him, and I’ve got him a place at Brunel University studying sports science.
“But it is the right thing to do by Marvin, because when he turned up at the club on that first day, you could tell there and then that his potential was exceptional.”
He added: “Remember, he is only 18 years old, he has time to grow and improve.
“The Olympics in 2020 is on the cards, we just have to manage him right.
“We need to keep him healthy, and push him just enough to maintain an upward curve.”