Leon Baptiste completes his golden comeback
NORTH London sprint hero Leon Baptiste is back on home soil this week having laid to rest seven years of pain with his magnificent double gold at the Commonwealth Games.
Baptiste’s 20.45 seconds in the 200m in Delhi handed England their first sprint gold at the Games in 12 years, and even better followed for the Enfield & Haringey sprinter with gold in the 4x100m relay alongside Ryan Scott, Mark Lewis-Francis and Marlon Devonish.
The double success marks the pinnacle of the 25-year-old’s athletics career so far – just three months after the devastation of omission from Great Britain’s squad for the European Championships – and a full seven years after his last international gold medal at the European Junior Championships 5-1.
“I’m still ecstatic, I’ve always had a lot of self-belief and my family have always been behind me, so that was all that mattered to me,” said Baptiste.
“It had been a while since my last gold medal so I’m going to enjoy the moment – it’s already safely locked away!
“I was quietly confident going out there because my preparation was the best it has ever been. The 10-day training camp in Doha before the Games went well so I knew I was on track.
“Crossing the finish line, it was just a relief really. I felt I ran really well through the heats, the quarter-finals and semi-finals, but to be honest in the final I don’t think I really ran as well. The tension and excitement made it a fight for the line in the last 30 or 40 metres.”
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That fight for the line was nothing new for Baptiste, whose fledgling career has taken one twist and then another ever since he damaged his knee ligaments while playing for an Enfield Sunday League football team as a 14-year-old.
Switching his attention to sprinting, Baptiste was just 18 when he won the 100m at the European Championships in Finland, but he struggled for form ever since turning senior and reached a career low when he lost out to Devonish in the Great Britain squad in July.
But he caught the eye of the world with his 200m win, and made it a perfect double with success in the relays just days later.
“Individually, I think we had one of the fastest teams on paper, but we had never raced before,” admitted Baptiste. “But the changes were good, obviously Marlon and Mark brought experience, and we just gelled.”
Back in London, the E&H man is now eager to stamp his mark by bringing his times down and taking on the world’s elite – although he is quick to play down his rapid progress and maintains he is still some way from challenging the likes of the world’s fastest man.
“I’ve certainly had my fair share of downs, whether it’s injury, lack of form or just not posting fast enough times, but I felt ready this time and I’ve worked hard to find that remedy,” he said.
“I think you need to go through the tough times in order to learn from them and correct yourself.
“I know that now I have to go back to training and forget about it, and keep firing on all cylinders.
“It would be nice to compete with the guys at the very top, but I can’t go out there and say ‘I’m going to beat Usain Bolt’, because I’d look like an idiot.
“In all honesty I don’t think I’m that close to those guys. I need to work on getting my time down to 20.2, 20.1, and under 20 seconds if possible – take it step by step and try to get close to them.
“There are so many great athletes out there running great times, all inside 19 seconds. I need to replicate this form – I’ve won a senior gold medal in one of the hardest eras there has ever been to achieve success.
“My friends and family were asking me when they can see me race. Well, now they’ve seen me win Commonwealth gold on prime-time television.It doesn’t get much better than that!”