Speedy Harrison, 17, dreams of Olympic glory - for Israel

THE clock is ticking to the London 2012 Olympic Games. And a 17-year-old expat is set on kindling the Olympic flame for Israel.

Growing up in Yorkshire, Harrison Fearnley moved to Israel with his mother at the age of 11.

Currently, this speedy runner is No 1 at under-17 level for 400 metres and having moved to under-19 ranks is fastest on times.

Barring injury, he will ratify his position at the under-19 championships next month.

And a top-two finish will see the fleet-footed boy from Leeds line up at the forthcoming Maccabiah Games at under-19 level in July.

Naor Green holds the national 400 metres record at 46.59, but this precocious talent is gunning for that time sooner rather than later.

"My times are improving and I keep beating my personal bests each time I race," said Harrison.

"At the under-17 Israeli championships last year, I finished first in the 400 metres then qualified for the senior Israeli championships and finished eighth.

"Next month I'm taking part in the under-19 championships and hope to finish higher in the senior Israeli championships.

"It would be great to take part at the Maccabiah Games.

"My uncle, Richard Gordon, was an outstanding rugby player and represented England at the Maccabiah three times so it would be good to continue the family tradition."

Harrison added: "My best time for 400 metres has come down six seconds from two seasons ago to 49.99.

"The under-19 national record is 48.17 so I have two seasons to break that record and I'm confident that I will.

"I'm also 1.5 seconds ahead of the No 2 at under-19 level.

"Only five runners are now ahead of me at senior level so I'm hoping to beat them all soon then get down to the Olympic qualification time of 45.90.

"With better competition and training, I'm confident I can achieve the Olympic standard.

"To line up for Israel in the country I was born in would be awesome."

An all-round sprinter, Harrison excelled at an international junior meet in Denmark last month.

Representing his local club Haifa, Harrison came first in the 200 metres, second in the 400 m metres and was a member of the winning 4x100 metre relay team.

With times tumbling, Harrison has cause for optimism that he will realise his dream of becoming the first Israeli to line up for the one-lap event.

"My parents Mitchell and Sharon Fearnley split up when I was six," he said.

"I was at Moorlands School, Leeds, and happy - but in 2002, mum, who is a beautician and hairdresser, decided it would be better for us live in Israel with the freedom of outdoor life and security of being 'home'.

"We live in Zichron Ya'akov, which is between Haifa and Tel Aviv.

"I like living in Zichron because of its culture and history. Zichron has the first aliya museum and a vibrant centre with wonderful restaurants, cafes, bars and shops.

"Zichron is a great place. I have lots of friends to hang out with and everyone makes you feel welcome."

Sport was a big part of Harrison's life from a young age when he excelled as a centre at rugby union and he's carried on his sporting prowess in his adopted country.

Spotted by football scouts as an attacking midfielder for Maccabi Haifa at schoolboy level, Harrison, who has a step sister Alex and three step brothers - Richard, Daniel and Nicholas - chose athletics after impressing at sports days.

"I was always good at events without really trying," he said. "My friend Or Rilov's mum, Ofir, saw my potential.

"I couldn't see it myself, but she suggested I went to trials at the Wingate Institute and they put me in touch with Maccabi Haifa athletic coach Danny Wolfberg.

"Danny, who is originally from Chile, has been guiding me for two-and-a-half years and gives me a really tough schedule.

"I train five nights a week after school. Training is a mix of cardio, fitness, stamina, weights and endurance.

"Danny keeps changing my schedule so my body doesn't get used to a set routine."

As for heroes, Harrison cites the best.

"Being a 400 metre runner, one of my heroes is Michael Johnson who still holds the world record for 400 metres and used to hold the 200 metre world record until Usain Bolt blew it away at the last Olympics.

"Johnson always delivered in the major races and has been the number one person to beat even after he retired.

"My inspiration comes from an inner-self belief. After feeling a buzz from winning at school, I felt a sense of achievement which I could not feel academically.

"This buzz has focused me on setting a goal to make the Olympic team for Israel.

"To be the first person to represent Israel at 400 metres would be an amazing achievement."

Away from the track, Harrison is a typical teenager, but his thoughts soon turn to athletic success.

"I like computer games and hanging out with friends as well as giving my mother a hard time," he smiles.

"I'm still in full-time education and then will have to go into the army, but I'm hoping to get a military sports scholarship to enable me to continue competing in athletics.

"It won't be easy, though, so I'm looking to get sponsorship for the next few years."

Harrison added: "I'm realistic about my Olympic chances, but if I make 2012 I know that I will give my best.

"Your peak years as a runner are 25-27 if you stay fit so I've time on my side, but for me everything now revolves around athletics.

"Pulling on an Israeli Olympic vest would be the ultimate."

© 2009 Jewish Telegraph