With an honesty every bit as breathtaking as his blistering speed, the most talented male sprinter in Britain is explaining how fast food, cake, and epic Call of Duty sessions nearly derailed his Olympic dream. “Deliveroo is the problem,” admits Reece Prescod and then, suddenly, it all starts to tumble out: how he turned up a stone overweight at the British trials three weeks ago, how it became an epiphany, and why he believes redemption in the form of a shock 100m medal in Tokyo is not out of reach.
“Deliveroo is just very convenient,” says the 25-year-old, who is one of the most popular and engaging members of the British team. “Where I live in Canary Wharf, you’ve got Joe and the Juice in the morning and Pret. Then you come back for lunch. There’s Nando’s, there’s Gourmet Burger Kitchen. And Daryll Neita is one of my close friends and her family have an amazing Caribbean restaurant too.
“Then I jump on Call of Duty with the boys, and we’ll have a little snack break,” he adds. “And instead of eating a fruit salad, I might order from Cake and Custard Factory. Before you know it a jam tart, a pink icing cake with some custard, and then I’ve ordered two, and an Appletiser and then I go to bed. You do that for a week and the weight just ends up going on.”
Prescod admits that he weighed 87kg at the British trials. He is now at 83kg. And he insists there is still time to drop to his race weight of 79-80kg in time for the Olympic 100m heats, which begin on 31 July – especially now that he has gone on a crash diet and stopped eating lunch. “This holding camp I need to stick to the fruit salads and the water, chicken and ease up a little bit,” he says. “There will be no Cake and Custard Factory and all that stuff. It’s not good.”
If Prescod lives up to his promise, nothing is beyond him. The Londoner is so talented that, as a 22-year-old in 2018, he broke 10 seconds for 100m four times, ran a wind-assisted 9.88sec, and finished with a silver medal at the European Championships. But then, having started 2019 with an even bigger bang, he suffered a serious hamstring injury and did not race for two years.
A move to the US at the start of this year was supposed to revitalise his career. But Prescod admits he struggled with the intensity of the Florida regime, led by the leading US coach Mike Holloway, as well as homesickness and a recurrence of his hamstring problems.
But having begun his comeback last month sluggishly, which was reflected in a disappointing 10.33sec and a fifth-place finish in the UK trials, Prescod was given a lifeline by selectors – and realised he had to knuckle down fast.
“It was weird when I was running in the trials,” he confesses. “I was well overweight and I got absolutely whooshed, absolutely battered. Which was humbling. My coach Marvin doesn’t sugarcoat it. Coming back from trials he said: ‘Reece, that’s just not you’. He said I needed to get my head down and train.”
Prescod took the advice to heart. A 10.13sec on a slow track in the Diamond League meeting in Gateshead last week was a massive step forward and he is convinced that there is plenty more to come in Tokyo.
It helps too that he stopped his lengthy Call of Duty sessions after realising they were detrimental to his performance. “Back in the day, back in lockdown, it was a serious commitment,” he admits. “I was a serious gamer. I was a serious soldier. I was jumping on eight-hour shifts a day at least. But I think as time goes on, we’ve had a lot of wins. The game has evolved, I took a break from it, now I jump on one or two games with the boys, max.
“It’s not like before, it was very much like ‘training, go home, lads, all right what time are you on? Two? OK. Play 2pm to 8pm. Then food, and in Warzone. You just keep playing and playing. I’ve got a very addictive personality so once I get into something, I get into it fully.”
When it is suggested that redemption could yet come in Tokyo, he nods. “There’s definitely a chance of a medal,” he says. “People run fast times in America, but they come over here and their 9.9 in America becomes 10 secs. It’s a champs as well – and they are round by round. Nerves get involved, pressure gets involved and people start losing their heads. I don’t think I’ve ever let anyone down at a champs, I’ve always done well.”
Prescod also tips his fellow British 100m sprinters CJ Ujah and Zharnel Hughes as potential medal contenders, adding: “It’s not Reece v Zharnel v CJ. It’s us lot versus the world, us lot versus the Americans and Jamaicans.”
That much is true. Although perhaps the biggest battle Prescod still faces is the one with himself.