Yemi Mary, who also featured in the top 10 last year having won gold at the World Athletics U20s Championships in 2022, was presented with the Award by 400 metres legend Christine Ohuruogu MBE at Lee Valley Athletics Centre on Monday (18 December). She edged out para cyclist Archie Atkinson, 19, and BMX rider Freia Challis, 15, as they finished in second and third positions respectively.
“It's a really good feeling and it's great to have had this season's achievements recognised!” said Yemi Mary shortly after being presented with the Award. “They caught me off-guard with my Award which was a lovely surprise. Christine has done amazing things, not only in the sport as a whole but in the 400 specifically, so just to have her recognise me and be able to be in a room with such great and successful people is exciting. I appreciated her being there for it.
“I feel like it sets me up for a great trajectory of success and hopefully I will follow in the footsteps of those before [who have won the One-to-Watch Award]. I feel like I'm already on the radar especially because of my first senior season, not only just competing but coming away with medals. The targets I had for the season were hit in the senior field and it solidified my position there and hopefully I can now go further next year."
The One-to-Watch Award has gained a strong reputation for identifying the best up-and-coming prospects in Britain since its launch in 2006. Previous winners, including Tom Daley OBE, Hollie Arnold MBE, Jodie Williams and Alex Yee MBE, have already amassed over 50 senior medals from Olympic and Paralympic Games, World and European Championships, and Commonwealth Games.
Yemi Mary, who dabbled in many sports from gymnastics to MMA when growing up, only started properly competing on the track in 2019. The University of Southern California student has been supported by SportsAid for the last two years and is now determined to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games having made such an impression on the world stage at senior level in 2023.
“Olympics year, Paris has to be my first and biggest target,” added Yemi Mary. “Obviously performing in the NCAA's season as well will be key to making sure I appear on the senior scene on an individual basis as well as in the relays. I just need to keep on doing what I have been doing and ramp it up. It's been working pretty well so far….so just doing that, times 10. I don't like to put a lid on my goals by giving one specific number or title but I'm definitely wanting more medals, more golds, more Olympics, more records even. I want to grow as an athlete and a person.”
The top 10 for this year’s One-to-Watch Award were selected from around 1,000 rising British stars supported by SportsAid across more than 60 different sports. Athletes are nominated by their sport’s governing body on the strength of their talent and potential, as well as their recent achievements, before a judging panel, led by Sarah Winckless MBE, identifies the winner, runner-up and third place.
The remaining shortlisted athletes – equestrian Alice Casburn, fencer Amelie Tsang, canoeist Greta Roeser, weightlifter Isabella Brown, squash player Jonah Bryant, golfer Kris Kim, and para athlete Madeline Down – have had their achievements celebrated with in-person visits from SportsAid. The charity’s staff has travelled to their training environments to gain further insight into how they balance sport with their day-to-day commitments.
Each of the top 10 athletes are receiving a cash boost in recognition of their incredible feats. Yemi Mary is being awarded £1,000 as the winner with Archie receiving £750 and Freia benefitting from £500. Alice, Amelie, Greta, Isabella, Jonah, Kris and Madeline will each be given £250. They have also been provided with gift packages focused on nutrition, mental wellbeing, sleep and recovery.
SportsAid alumna Christine was delighted to present the One-to-Watch Award to Yemi Mary and predicted a bright future for each of the top 10. Christine, who was crowned Olympic, World and Commonwealth champion while accumulating over 20 international medals during her senior career, has high hopes for Yemi Mary having seen the potential she has demonstrated in the 400m discipline.
She has also been impressed by how the USC athlete balances her sport with her Economics studies – alongside the time she spends as a committed volunteer at a homeless shelter. Yemi Mary, who has taken inspiration from Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce's Pocket Rocket Foundation, hopes to build a similar legacy of her own while inspiring young girls to pursue their sporting ambitions.
“I think Yemi's fantastic,” said Christine. “I am really blown away by how young she is and how much she does, not just on the track, but outside track. I think it's a great inspiration for her peers, and for older people, that you can juggle the two successfully. I'm hoping that this Award will continue to inspire her to keep reaching and wanting to be the athlete that causes a stir and mixes things up.
“I think the 400 metres in this country is in a really great place both in the men’s and the women's. And I think that’s what's great about Yemi – she does really keep the girls on their toes. And not only that, I've also noticed that it inspires the other younger athletes. Because when you see someone else who is new and young coming through, it gives other people the opportunity to believe that they can do the same thing and that they can create an impact. I think she should be really proud of herself.”
Christine added: “I was a recipient of a SportsAid award not too long ago….a very, very, very, very many few years ago! The sports world can get very, very crowded, and very, very noisy. So the athletes are working away, often in their own pockets around the country, and they can sometimes feel like they're doing all this hard work and nobody cares. I think that it's really nice for the athletes to feel like they've been seen, they've been recognised and that their hard work hasn't gone in vain.”
Here’s more information on the top three for this year’s One-to-Watch Award....
Yemi Mary John
20, from Woodford, Essex
• Gold in the women’s 400m at the European Athletics U23 Championships
• Silver in the 4x400m mixed relay at the IAAF World Athletics Championships (senior)
• Bronze in the 4x400m women’s relay at the IAAF World Athletics Championships (senior)
19, from Heaton Moor, Greater Manchester
• Gold in the men’s C4 Scratch Race at the UCI Cycling World Championships (senior)
• Bronze in the men’s C4 Road Race at the UCI Cycling World Championships (senior)
• Fifth in the men’s C4 Individual Time Trial at the UCI Cycling World Championships (senior)
15, from Halstead, Essex
• Gold in the women’s race at the UCI BMX Racing World Championships (15 years)
• Gold in the women’s race at the UEC BMX Racing European Championships (15 years)
• Gold in the women’s race at the UEC BMX Racing European Cup (15/16 years)
And here's the seven athletes who made the top 10 alongside Yemi, Archie and Freia….
21, from Norwich, Norfolk
• Seventh place at the Burghley International three-day event (open age group)
• Seventh place at the Thorsesby Park 4* International (open age group)
• Eighteenth place at the Badminton International 5* three-day event (open age group)
17, from Bromley, Greater London
• Gold in the women’s individual foil at the World Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships
• Gold in the women’s individual foil at the British Fencing Championships (senior)
• Silver in the women’s individual foil at the EFC Cadet Championships (Cabries event)
18, from Guildford, Surrey
• Gold in the women’s K1 5,000m at the ICF Junior Canoe Sprint World Championships
• Silver in the women’s K1 Long Course (17.7km) at the ICF Junior Canoe Sprint World Championships
• Gold in the women’s K1 Short Course at the ECA Junior Canoe Marathon European Championships
19, from Ashford, Middlesex
• Bronze in the women’s 76kg category at the EWF European Junior and U23 Weight Lifting Championships
• Silver in the women’s 76kg category at the British Weight Lifting Championships (senior)
• Ranked third in Europe and eighth in the world in the 76kg category at junior level
18, from Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex
• Gold in the men’s singles event at the ESF European U19 Individual and Mixed Team Championships
• Gold in the mixed team event at the ESF European U19 Individual and Mixed Team Championships
• Silver in the men’s singles event at the British Junior Open Championships
16, from Worcester Park, Greater London
• Won the Junior Ryder Cup with Team Europe by a record margin (Kris won 3.5pts from 4)
• Won the R&A Boys’ Amateur title (U18)
• Won the EGA European Boys Team Championships (U18) and set new course-record
16, from Selly Oak, West Midlands
• Gold in the women’s T38 100m at the Trinidad and Tobago Commonwealth Youth Games
• Gold in the women’s T38 long jump at the Trinidad and Tobago Commonwealth Youth Games
• Gold in the women’s T38 100m and long jump at the England Athletics National Championships (U17)