Nick Griggs will look to become the first Irish athlete to defend a title at the European U20 Championships this evening when he toes the line in the Men’s 3000m final.
The young athlete shot to prominence this time two years ago when as a relatively unheralded 16-year-old he ran away from the field effortlessly to claim gold in Talinn over seven and a half laps.
Since then he has continued on his upward trajectory transitioning from coach Barry Holmes at Mid Ulster AC and moving to the Candour Track Club setup led by Mark Kirk.
In that short time frame he has set national U20 records over 1500m, the Mile, 3000m and 5000m, becoming a household name for Irish athletics fans.
Just last week it was confirmed that the 18-year-old would be part of the Irish team for the World Athletics Championships in Budapest where he will race the 1500m alongside Andrew Coscoran and Luke McCann, a prospect he described as a “pipe dream” less than two months ago and had seemingly completely written off when interviewed after his final at the 123.ie National Senior Track and Field Championships a little over a week ago.
While the prospect of making his major senior national debut is undoubtedly tantalizing Griggs will want to get the business done this evening in Jerusalem first.
In the absence of Dutch sensation Niel Laros, the Tyrone teenager will go into this evening’s final (5:35pm) as the hot favourite.
“We decided at the start of the year that I was going to try and defend the title,” he told Irish Runner recently.
“I’ll go out and give it my best shot, that’s what I always do. I’m excited and really looking forward to it.”
After the European U20’s and World Championships Griggs will take a well-earned rest before taking his training to a place it has never gone before.
Griggs will head to altitude for the first time and up his mileage which currently stands at around 65 miles per week, much lower than a lot of athletes of his calibre.
He will also take a year away from education as he chases his dream of becoming an Olympian, which given the spectacular season he has had to date now feels tangible.
Griggs looked sensational earlier this season as he clocked 3.36.09 for the 1500m in Nice and equally impressive running 3.55.73 for the Mile at the Morton Games.
The 3.36 performance was similar to what he expected, Griggs making a note in his phone as to what splits he wanted to hit before executing perfectly, however the way it felt came as quiet the surprise.
“I didn’t expect to run that time and feel really good doing it.
“I was expecting that if I was going to run 3.36, I was going to be absolutely busting a gut,” he adds.
“I was still working really hard, but I expected to feel a lot more uncomfortable than I did. It was a good confidence boost because I didn’t think that I was in that good shape.”
With eleven men in the world having broken 3.30 this year for the metric mile Griggs knows that he will have to go faster but believes he is capable of doing so.
“I need to be at that level in the next year or two if I want to be competing on the world stage.
“As much as it is a wee bit daunting that everyone is getting so good you just can’t be intimidated by it.
“If I keep training, everything goes well, and I stay injury free in a few years’ time that’ll be me as well.”
Nick Griggs on Olympic dream
As for Paris next year, what would it mean for the youngster to get to what is widely considered as the pinnacle of the sport?
“It would mean everything because that’s all I’ve ever wanted to say,” he says.
“If anyone asked me, what are you going to be when you’re older, I didn’t even say pro athlete because I didn’t know what a pro athlete was, I just said I’m going to be an Olympian. It’s the one thing I’ve always wanted to be.
“To say I could achieve that at 19 would mean everything to me and even if I didn’t make it next year and I made it when I was 23 it would mean the world.
“That’s something I’m going to work really hard for. Hopefully it becomes a reality.”
It certainly feels now that Nick Griggs dream is within touching distance.