British Universities shot put champion Youcef Zatat tells AW how he is keeping his throws options open

If it had not been for throwing a tennis ball over the school wall into the train station as a child, Youcef Zatat might not even be in the sport today.

It was after that incident that Youcef’s PE teachers told his parents he should join an athletics club and the 20-year-old has gone on to win English Schools and BUCS shot put titles.

Coached by 1974 and 1982 Commonwealth silver medallist Mike Winch, Youcef won his first national title at the English Schools in 2012 and took BUCS and England Athletics senior silvers in 2013 before winning BUCS titles indoors and outdoors this year.

“In my mind I had owed people something for their support and belief in me,” he says. “My team managers at Essex were so supportive. I felt I had to win for the amount they had given me over the years on their team. I’m on a scholarship at Middlesex University and they have done an unbelievable job in looking after me, so at BUCS I owed them an incalculable debt.”

Yet despite his national successes it is another competition that he claims is his proudest achievement. “My best moment was probably my first competition for my club at the time, Ilford AC. I broke the under-13 club record in the discus. Without that, I probably wouldn’t be in the sport,” he explains.

Now a member of Woodford Green with Essex Ladies, Youcef trains six days a week, incorporating throws, lifts and sprints and jumps. Although he largely trains alone, he is full of praise for coach Winch.

“It can be hard at times, getting 50 throws done in a session when there’s nobody else around,” he says. “Mike has moved back home to Brighton on a more permanent basis. I keep in regular contact with him, but it’s difficult to see him often as I live, learn and train in London and often my university schedule doesn’t allow me the time to get to Brighton to see him.

“Conversations with him are often enough, as he is extremely articulate in his way of coaching. Having somebody that has produced the best throwers this country has seen, as well as been one of the all-time best in the shot, is a rare combination. I’m lucky to have somebody like that advising me.”

Boasting a PB of 16.66m, Youcef is pleased with his progress, but well aware that he is some way off being among the world’s best. Therefore, upon Winch’s advice, he is keeping his options open with discus, an event in which he has thrown 46.65m.

“Discus doesn’t suit my approach to throwing. I get really aggressive, but you have to relax in the discus and it’s something that I haven’t quite got the hang of yet. I think Mike believes I can throw further,” says Youcef.

Studying sport and exercise science at Middlesex University, Youcef comes from a family of academics and is ambitious in this area. However, sporting prowess seems to be in his genes. His father was a hurdler and trained with former world mile record-holder Noureddine Morceli of Algeria. Given Youcef’s ball skills in the playground, it would seem he has a natural talent for throwing too.

You can find further performance stats on Youcef on Power of 10 here.

» Support young athletics via the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund, see rpmf.org.uk