“It’s an odd to thing to say, but you lose your identity. If you have been an athlete all your life, when you’re injured you think: who am I?”
Andrew Pozzi didn’t know he’d won at first. He didn’t want to think it either.
Even when the photo-finish came up and American Jarret Eaton told him – it’s you, you’re world champion – still he waited, because he could wait a little longer.
Five years ago, the British hurdler was starting a very long fight against injury after injury. He says there were moments when he was “hanging on for dear life”.
On Sunday, one-hundredth of a second was the margin by which he beat Eaton to become indoor 60m hurdles world champion. Pozzi’s 7.46 seconds beat his rival’s 7.47.
You could see it all in his reaction, as the result was finally announced: A beaming smile, head tilted back, breathing deeply. Pozzi says the long recovery process changed him – and that’s why victory meant so much more.
“I can’t describe how much I wanted it. I’m happy there were pictures that do the moment justice,” the 25-year-old told BBC Sport.
“I just lost my head to be honest; I was running around and jumping. I’m not usually a particularly expressive person, not in public, but so many of my close family and friends were there. And I can’t thank enough the people who came out and supported us. We all took so much energy from that.”
‘I changed so much – far more mentally than physically’
As Pozzi himself says, this world medal – his first – has been a long time coming.
There was the Olympic disappointment of London 2012, a hugely promising year punctured by a hamstring injury that denied him a chance to shine on the biggest stage of all.
Then it was his feet. Persistent problems meant that for years he was unable to train properly and he has had surgery several times on both.
He did compete at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but missed out on a place in the 110m hurdles final. Last year he won gold at the European Indoor Championships. This year, there are the Commonwealth Games (Australia in April) and the European Athletics Championships (Berlin in August) to come.
“Walking out yesterday, I took so much strength from that period out injured. It truly made me a much better athlete,” Pozzi said.
“I changed so much, and far more mentally than physically. Mentally it really strengthened me. Now I relish every opportunity to compete. I don’t get nervous in the same way because I think about everything I’ve come through and all the hard work I’ve done to get here.”
‘I couldn’t have lived another life. Not without wondering what if’
There were times, Pozzi said, when he thought seriously about leaving athletics behind. If he hadn’t qualified for Rio, that may well have been it: The end, after “four years of minimal progress”.
He did an undergraduate degree and a master’s in management and finance. There were job offers in the offing. Tentative plans.
“I remember saying: I need to give this one big shot,” he said. “I have been an athlete since I was 10. I knew from primary school that I absolutely love doing this.
“As close as I came, I wouldn’t ever have been able to walk away without seeing it through right to the end. I don’t think I ever could have lived another life to be honest, without wondering: ‘what if?’
“What kept me going was the belief that I could compete for global titles, global medals. To start fulfilling that is so important, because I was so well supported by so many people who believed.
“To do it for them as well, it means the world.”