Jodie Williams was born with a winning habit until she stopped to think about it, writes Alex Spink in Berlin .
For five years she won every race she ran, 151 in all. Then she graduated to the senior ranks and the weight of expectation almost broke her.
“When I was younger everything just happened for me,” she admitted ahead of the European Championships. “I never learnt what struggles were. I kept winning and assumed that was how it would continue.
“It was a big discovery for me that things don’t just happen. I had to learn what rock bottom looked like to gain an appreciation of how hard you have to work to get to the top.”
Britain has high hopes of sprint glory here, with Dina Asher-Smith ranked No.1 for both women’s distances ahead of world champion Dafne Schippers. Zharnel Hughes tops the bill in the men’s 100m and will be pushed all the way by Reece Prescod.
Williams, ranked eighth in Europe over 200m, might not get too much of a mention.
But the 24-year-old, herself a world champion at youth and junior levels before being driven to the verge of quitting, comes to Germany having won perhaps her biggest battle of all.
“Not so long ago track was entirely my identity,” said Williams. “Every time I took a beating on the track I took it as a personal attack on me as a human being.
“It’s no secret I’ve had my injury struggles but actually it’s been more of a mental battle. When I left the juniors everyone just assumed I would win and that really took its toll.
“I was almost doing it out of fear, doing it for others. I didn’t want to let anyone down or have people think I was a failure. It reached a point that I asked myself if I really wanted to continue in the sport.”
It is all too easy to overlook the human element in the rush to satisfy medal targets and secure future funding; to brush over the pressures in a sport where fractions of a second separate winners from also-rans.
“Track is what we do, it is not who we are,” stressed Williams, who now doubles up as a blogger and coffee aficionado. “It’s so important for young athletes to understand that.
“Track takes up a lot of our time, it doesn’t really have an off switch. But if you find other interests you can put a bad day on the track down as just that. Not a bad day in life.
“I have learned the hard way the importance of having more than one passion in life. Of never getting carried away to the point that track becomes you as a person.”