Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Following famous footsteps


Bath-based sprinter Craig Pickering must feel the pressure to perform on the track more than most considering his coach is the man who guided two fellow male sprinters to global glory in recent years; yet the 23-year-old quiet man of British sprinting appears calm and collected in his patient quest for speed perfection; writes Nicola Bamford.

Coached by Malcolm Arnold; the man who masterminded the careers of former 110m hurdles world record-holder and two-time world champion, Colin Jackson and more recently Jason Gardener; the 2004 world indoor 60m and Olympic 4x100m relay gold-medallist, Pickering has amassed a collection of impressive accolades but has yet to truly make his mark on the world senior scene.

The Marshall Milton Keynes sprinter has been winning national titles since aged-15 and has captured World youth, European junior and continental Under-23 medals; improving his personal bests to 6.55 (60m indoors) and 10.14 (100m outdoors) in recent years.

Resurgence in British sprinting

But on the senior stage, the Bath University sport and exercise science graduate has found that; as is the strength in depth of British sprinting, maintaining your dominance is not easy.

The men’s discipline has enjoyed somewhat of resurgence in recent seasons, with the likes of Dwain Chambers, Simeon Williamson, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and Tyrone Edgar leading the charge and the mild-mannered Pickering has been quietly working his way to the top tier - albeit on a bumpy road.

“They are all very talented, but it’s good to have competition as it provides an incentive to train harder when you are on your own!” Pickering explained of his counterparts.

Springing to prominence in the indoor season of 2007, the self-confessed sprinting and science-obsessive has had a few rollercoaster years on the back of such strong rivalries.

National indoor 60m gold, European indoor 60m silver behind Gardener as-well as world 4x100m relay bronze that same year are among the highlights for Pickering.

Disappointing year

Struggling to maintain his stranglehold on the British sprinting mantle, however, Pickering was only sixth in the 2007 world 100m semi-final, fifth in his 2008 Beijing Olympic quarter-final, disqualified in the relay heat in Beijing, fifth in the 2009 continental indoors and fourth in last year’s world trials – thus missing World Championship selection.

Pickering explained his take on last year: “2009 was fairly disappointing - I didn’t make the World Champs team in the 100m and was left out of the final 4x100m squad. One positive was that I ran 10.08, although just slightly wind assisted, and ran well in the British and Crystal Palaces Grand Prix’s.”

Outdoors the objective

Understandably, the Adidas-sponsored athlete hopes for better fortunes and performances in 2010. He has already collected his fourth-consecutive 60m Glasgow international victory this season in addition to placing third in the same event in the UK indoor championships and World trials last weekend behind Chambers and Harry A-A – both times clocked at 6.66.

Drug-cheat turned reformed character, Chambers set a world-leading 6.50, whilst 21-year-old Harry A-A registered a surprising 6.55.

“Obviously, I am disappointed that Harry ran so quick as one of my competitors, but fair play to him. I would have liked to have run a bit quicker. I was never working towards Doha (the World Championships next month) but I would have liked to have been in a position to have said, No, I don’t want to go.” Pickering explained.

“But at the end of the day I think it’s been worthwhile running indoors. And now I’ve got some things to improve for outdoors. It’s good to have people running quickly because you know you’ve got to pull out your best performance; it’s positive for the sport.”

Working obsessively

Pickering insists his training is going well and has added plyometrics to his busy regime which includes thrice-weekly gym, track and conditioning work.

He is known for his immense hard-work ethic and having an obsessive approach to his sport; understandable considering the achievements of his contemporaries and former training partners.

“I see it as being given an opportunity, and I don’t want to look back in 20-years time and think ‘I could have tried harder’.” Pickering explained.

“I want to look back and know I gave it my best shot. I also know there are athletes out there more talented than me, and so I know I need to work harder than them. I’d like to become a coach of some sort one day, ideally in athletics to pass on what I have learnt to others”

Positive outlook

With such a determined positive mental attitude, Pickering will surely get his just rewards for the years of graft and patience. In the short-term, he contests the Aviva Birmingham international grand-prix this Saturday to resume his rivalry with Harry A-A.

Long-term, Pickering wants to “go as far as I can go and hopefully run under 10-seconds” in addition to stating his goals for 2010 as “getting an individual spot on Team GB for both the European Championships (Barcelona in July) and Commonwealth Games (New Delhi, October).”

Should Pickering achieve his 2010 and beyond aspirations, he will progress another step on the ladder to replicating the achievements of those who have so sublimely ran before him .

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