In the first part of an exclusive interview with Team GB sprinter Adam Gemili ahead of this week’s World Athletics Championships in Qatar, the Londoner discusses his eight years growing up in the Chelsea Academy, sharing a dressing room with Ruben Loftus-Cheek and developing as a person.
‘Leaving the club was heartbreaking and it took me a long time to come to terms with it. I wish things had worked out differently and I was a first team player at Chelsea, that was always my dream, but dreams change.’
Adam Gemili always wanted to be a footballer. He spent eight years in the Chelsea Academy striving to make it but things didn’t quite work out and he left the club at the age of 15. He reset his goals, restarted with a career in athletics and realised new dreams.
Three years after leaving our Cobham training ground for the final time, he ran the 100 metres for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, his hometown, just six months after hanging up his football boots and committing full-time to track and field.
In 2014, he became a double European champion, winning the 200 metres and 4 x 100m relay. Then, at the 2017 World Athletics Championships, he won a world gold in the relay in front of a jubilant home crowd.
Now, Gemili is breaking new ground again. At the 2019 World Athletics Championships, which start in Doha this week, he will be the first British athlete to take on the 100m and 200m at the same event, as well as defending his 4 x 100m relay world title. Not bad for a boy who started his sporting career as a young Blue training in Battersea Park.
‘I grew up at Chelsea and had eight fantastic years there,’ Gemili tells the official Chelsea website as we reflect back on his early sporting memories. ‘The club looked after me and gave me experiences I’ll never forget. I joined when I was eight and to sign for a club like Chelsea, just to play football with your friends at that level, for one of the biggest clubs in the country, was brilliant.
‘Being around the best players and around that professional level from a young age was great for me. We trained at Cobham after Harlington and Battersea Park in the earlier days and I absolutely loved it.’
Adam Gemili on growing up with Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Gemili played alongside the likes of Jamal Blackman and Todd Kane in his own age group, before striking up a close friendship with Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The pair would travel into Cobham together from south London and have remained in touch since Gemili left the club in 2008.
‘I still chat to Jamal and Ruben, who was a few years younger but from the same area as me,’ Gemili revealed. ‘We used to travel in together on the same bus every week for years and it’s unbelievable to see how he’s pushed on.
‘Josh McEachran was the year above and an unbelievable talent even at that young age, and Nathaniel Chalobah was the age group below but we all used to mix together in training. It was just a nice era to be around because everyone was humble and got on with each other.’
Important lessons in the Chelsea Academy
After leaving the Blues for Reading, Gemili signed a professional deal at Dagenham & Redbridge, though his only appearances in senior football came on loan at Thurrock. He studied at college and university during this time and believes the education he received at the Chelsea Academy from the age of eight to 15 set him up to achieve everything he could in life, even if that wasn’t ultimately in football.
‘They tell you as soon as you join the club how tough it is to break into the senior team,’ he said. ‘They explained to us that only one or two per cent will end up playing for Chelsea but they also told us we would be taught things that we could go on and take into whatever we ended up doing in life, whether that was sport, music, business or whatever.
‘I really remember sitting and listening to that conversation but everyone still came out thinking they would be the one per cent.’
Gemili ended up being in the minority, though not for the reasons he was ever expecting, as he switched the football field for the running track. Now, he runs fast for a living but also talks well and lives right. He has suffered with injuries and missed out on selection for the 200m at his home championships two years ago, a snub that clearly hurt him.
Yet he remains humble, articulate in conversation and thoughtful with his words, eager to be a good person in life as well as a good sprinter on the track.
‘You have to sacrifice a lot because you train three times a week and your whole weekends are filled up with football but you learn so much,’ he added. ‘At Chelsea, they taught us about diet and nutrition, sleep, studying, working hard and just being a good person.
‘That was the one thing that I always liked about being at Chelsea – even if you were the best player in the team, if you weren’t a good person off the pitch then they weren’t interested.
‘I learned a lot about that, picking up good habits and being a role model, and it’s something I’ve taken into my track and field life. The little professional things you learn from such a young age become ingrained into your head and I don’t think I’d be the athlete I am today if I hadn’t gone through that system.’
-In the second part of our exclusive interview, Adam talks about out-running everyone as a young defender, his transition to athletics at the age of 18 just in time to make an explosive emergence at London 2012 and his hopes for the coming week in Doha. He begins in the 100m heats today (Friday) and the 200m heats on Sunday.