Rising star Cleo Agyepong had a summer to remember in 2022. The teenage shot-putter from south London won a gold medal at the U18 European Athletics Championships in Jerusalem, Israel. It saw the Blackheath & Bromley athlete being selected to represent Great Britain and Northern Ireland again at the U20 World Championships in Cali, Columbia, in a competition two years above her age group.
Clearly one to watch for the future, we caught up with Cleo, coached by John Hillier, to find out who inspired her to take up the sport as a youngster growing up in Lewisham, how she managed to turn around her biggest season so far and what advice she has for anyone thinking of joining an athletics club.
How did you first get into athletics?
I first got into athletics because of my mum. I have always been in sports clubs from since I can remember. I had just quit dance as a 10-year-old and my mum wanted to get me into another club. One day while shopping in Sainsbury’s there was a poster about a local athletics club. She took down the details and I went along to my first ever session as a runner. That was when I was 10 and I’ve been there ever since.
Can you tell me about your 2022 season and what the highs and lows were for you?
My 2022 season is probably my favourite season so far. At the start of the season, I wasn’t throwing distances that I wanted to. I was becoming really frustrated throughout January to May and it wasn’t coming together - and I didn’t foresee it coming together either. In June, I hit a PB with the 3kg and the 4kg shot, both qualifying me for the World U20 Championships (as a first-year under-20) and the European U18 Championships. That felt really rewarding as for the past five months of competing I had felt really low and dejected every time I competed. I was really proud of myself and really optimistic for the future which allowed me to go on and win the U18 Championships. I think self-belief is one of the things that can spur you to a win even if no one else believes.
Do you have any particular goals/targets over the next few months?
Over the next few months, I want to get the European under-20 qualifying standard as well as remaining fit and healthy and be able to train and compete to the best my abilities without injury hindering me.
What influence has the journey with your athletics club had in your athletic development (coaches, club volunteers, etc)?
I started at Cambridge Harriers as a runner. It was a good club, and I was able to compete in lots of different events as a part of the Kent Young Athlete League and the Youth Development League. Now I am part of Blackheath and Bromley and I think, for me as a thrower, they provided a more well-rounded experience to every event especially field events which are often neglected. I think being part of a larger team with great management, in various different premier leagues has allowed me to really feel a team spirit despite athletics being an individual event.
What’s the best thing about your club?
I think sometimes being part of a large club you can feel like just another athlete, however, I don’t feel that is the case with Blackheath and Bromley as there are weekly roundups done by the president of the club which acknowledge all club members achievements from that week. This is really special to me as when I won the European U18 Championships I was mentioned in the president’s roundups and despite being in a different country and representing Great Britain instead of Blackheath and Bromley I was still acknowledged and congratulated on my achievement which made me feel like I had really solid support from back home.
What is your proudest moment wearing a club vest?
My proudest moment wearing my club vest is when I threw the world U20 standard at a YDL match. It was really unexpected, and it felt very natural and easy at a no pressure event. As my club is part of the premier division for the youth development league, that throw was eligible for the world U20 standard. I was so happy and when I went back to tell my team manager Tim Souter he said ‘well done’ to me and wished me good luck for the next week as I was going to compete in Jerusalem for the European U18 Championships.
What would you say to independent / recreational athletes who might be considering joining a club?
There are no downsides to joining a club, you don’t even have to join a club that is local to you and there are no entry standards to join a club. There is a wide range of people in my club from age 11 to 60. Everybody is welcome and able to compete at a competitive level. Competing at a competitive level can bring out something in you that you never even knew you had. It will be running faster, jumping higher, and throwing further if you compete against people that are really giving you a challenge so I would encourage joining a club that has a good reputation and competes in a higher division league so that you can really be challenged us an athlete.