Otis Irwin – from under 13 beginner to two-time English Schools Champion and winning Gold medals representing England and GB
Otis started doing athletics at school in year 5 and after running an 800m race on undulating grass with about 40 boys, in which he was about 20th after 400m, but ended up winning it, he loved it and thought ‘I am good at this, I am going to keep doing it’.
In 2017 his first year as an under 13 Otis continued to win every school race and he qualified for the National Preparatory Schools Championships at 800m. He was terrified, but afterwards pleased with his performance. The following year he joined Yeovil Athletic Club, became Wiltshire County champion in May and this time won the National Preparatory Schools Championships in July, both at 800m.
Joining Yeovil was a real commitment, as it was a 50 minute drive to get there, but it helped him develop and after winning he said it was the happiest he had felt in athletics. He also said that the National Preparatory Schools Championships felt like a real event when he was standing on the podium. These were feelings that he wanted to repeat.
In 2019 Otis did not train at Yeovil as he had to focus on his school academics, but in his school athletics he again qualified for the National Preparatory Schools Championships at 800m and was successful again, winning silver in his first year as an under 15.
After the covid pandemic in 2020, Otis moved schools and enjoyed further success at 800m after moving up to under 17s, winning silver in the 2021 Berkshire County Schools Championships.
He had been hand timed in some 400m races at school, one of which was 51.9 seconds and after joining Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow Athletic Club in January 2022, Otis switched to 400m on the advice of his coach and went on to achieve fantastic success in the 2022 summer season, as a second year under 17.
He did not know what to expect upon joining the club, but he noted it was a move to what he called ‘proper training’ twice a week, under the guidance of his new coach Nick Pearson.
In early April, in an open meeting, Otis finished 2nd in his first ever 400m race, which importantly started his learning about the event. Then in late April, he won his first race for the club, with a new PB of 50.92, which also meant he had achieved the qualifying time for the English Schools National Championships. Securing this early in the season had been a target he and Nick had set and Otis remembers a big hug with Nick after the race when they saw that he had achieved it.
In June Otis ran another new PB of 50.0 when winning silver at the Berkshire County Championships. He noted how the level of Berkshire U17s being very competitive, which perhaps helped him.
Also in June he won his second race for the club and then it was the English Schools National Championships in Manchester in early July. He recalls that GCSEs had just ended, he was tired, he had friends who had gone to Cornwall on holiday and he questioned whether he should join them or go to Manchester. Guided by Nick, he went to the Championships with the goal of qualifying for the final.
He was nervous and after 250m he recalls he was not in the frame for qualifying, but a really quick last 100m moved him from 4th to 2nd, to qualify for the final and in a new PB of 49.49. He was so happy with his PB and qualifying and said to himself ’this is what you wanted’, but motivated by Nick, who said ‘you can medal in the final’, he went out the following day and lined up for the final with this aim.
He recalls what he was most pleased about was how, in his first major final, how mentally calm and composed he was vs the other athletes.
In the heat he found himself 20 metres behind the eventual winner, but his own quick last 100 brought him to within 5 metres of the winner. In the final Otis planned on staying much closer to that athlete than in the heat, believing he would beat him in the last 100 metres. He stayed on his shoulder throughout and coming into the home straight, Otis thought ‘I am in position here’ and down the last 100m, hearing he crowd cheering, (crowds love seeing comebacks), he came through to win! It was also another PB! (49.02).
Winning meant that Otis was selected to represent England in the SIAB international in Belfast the following week. He won that too and as Nick said to him, he had gone from switching to the 400m to being English Schools champion to representing England (and winning) in just seven races!
Glandular Fever unfortunately then struck Otis, which poleaxed him and with a sinus operation as well, he missed almost of all 2022/2023 winter training.
He only started training again in March and with Nick worked really hard to get back to fitness and to be able to race competitively.
At the end of May, now an under 20, Otis raced for the club in his first 400m of the season. Not only did he win, but he also raced in a 200m, with a time of 21.5. Nick said to him afterwards that ‘we can do something special this season’.
He was invited to compete in the 400m in the South of England Senior/U20 Championships a week later in the first week of June. This went really well, by qualifying for the final and then winning bronze, with another PB of 48.77!
A week after that, he then raced for the club in his first National League match, which he said was a lot of fun and he loved it, especially joining teammate and GB athlete Alex Haydock-Wilson in the 200m.
His success at the South of England Championships meant that Otis qualified for the England Athletics U20/U23 Open Championships in mid-June. This was his biggest race yet and something that he and Nick had been building towards. Nick stressed how important it was to qualify for the final and Otis was thrilled when he both achieved this and ran a new PB of 48.19. In the final, which Otis recognised as the highest quality race he had ever been in, he ran yet another PB (48.01) and felt afterwards he could have gone faster, but incredibly was still learning about pacing.
Next up was the English Schools National Championships again, which he won again, this time in the 200m, then a week later he competed in the 400m in Manchester in the UK Athletics Championships!
He was the youngest athlete at the championships and found it an incredible experience, warming up in the company of GB stars such as Dina Asher-Smith, Keely Hodgkinson, Matthew Hudson-Smith etc and lining up in his heat alongside Hudson-Smith (British and European Champion, World Championship silver medallist), Otis sound it was ‘a proud moment’ to hear his own name as the athletes were introduced and that it was a honour to be in the same race as Hudson-Smith. They have actually remained in contact since then.
This amazing season after overcoming a major illness, missing most of winter training and working so hard to get back and racing for 13 weekends in a row, was crowned by being selected for the GB 4x400m team at the European Athletics under 20 Championships in Jerusalem in early August.
Otis was naturally thrilled, said receiving his first GB kit was like opening his Christmas stocking as a child, he loved trying it all on and representing GB meant so much after what he went through in the winter.
He was in the team for the heats, helping GB reach the final, which they won and said standing on top of the podium at the European Athletics under 20 Championships was his best ever feeling to date in athletics.
Otis is hugely grateful to his coach Nick Pearson, says he trusts him completely and is really looking forward to 2024, when he is going to cut back on his school sport, put in a good winter’s training targeting winning English Schools Championships again, this time in the 400m, competing in the UK Athletics Championships again and getting selected for the World Athletics under 20 Championships in Peru.
Written October 2023