WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
He was a prolific teenager, clinching sprint medals like there were no tomorrow before a succession of injuries ended the golden dream but now, seven years since his first international crown, Leon Baptiste is back on top of the winners’ podium, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 25-year-old 200m specialist underwent knee surgery in 2005 and has since failed to return to the limelight of which he had become accustomed to following a series of promising years in his youth.
The Enfield and Haringey sprinter – who is also a former semi-professional footballer – has an impressive athletic CV which boasts him as a four-time national 200m champion and two-time 100m winner during his time in the under20 and under23 ranks, as well as highlighting his European junior 100m and 4x100m relay victories in 2003 - his finest year until now.
For during 2010, Baptiste – who is based in Loughborough - finally fulfilled his bright potential with his first senior international championship medal when spectacularly claiming the Commonwealth Games half-lap title in Delhi back in October.
Indeed, his first major crown since his continental victory seven years previous was all the more sweet, for Baptiste managed to bounce back from the disappointment of missing Team GB selection for this summer’s European championships in Barcelona to register his three-fastest times of the year in India.
Speeding to a 20.43 lifetime-best in the semi-final, the London-born runner moved to sixteenth on the British all-time lists and third on the national rankings for the season – an achievement which was rewarded with the promotion to ‘podium-level’ funding by UK Athletics, meaning Baptiste could begin life as a full-time athlete this winter.
“My season finished on a high, setting a new personal best on my way to winning the Commonwealth Games 200m title,” Baptiste explained.
“This did not come without struggle, most noticeably not being selected for a place in the individual 200m at the European Championships in July.”
Returning from adversity to finally achieve the success which was expected of him years before has understandably, come as a huge relief for Baptiste.
It was shortly after making the semi-finals of the 2005 World junior 100m rounds that injury began to rear its ugly head, resulting in four disappointing years by his own standard.
In 2007, Baptiste finished a below-par sixth in the European under23 200m final but then briefly bounced back – after joining Michael Khmel’s training squad in Loughborough’s National Performance Centre - to place third in the 2008 Olympic 200m trial and 2009 World 200m trial, with a UK indoor title in between for good measure.
Frustration still followed, however, as selection for the Beijing Olympics and Berlin World championships eluded him, a set-back which was repeated again this summer – yet Baptiste has managed to turn his disappointment into determination to prevail against the odds and he did so in style this season.
“2008 and 2009 were disappointing as I did not make the Olympic and World Championship teams. Ultimately, this spurred me on to train harder and I believe this helped lead to my recent success,” Baptiste revealed.
Managed by Commonwealth 400m hurdles eighth-placer David Hughes at Body2win in the East-Midlands town, Baptiste began his 2010 campaign with a 6.73 60m indoor personal-best before taking the UK indoor 200m title and winning the Aviva International 200m in Glasgow.
Building on from an impressive indoor phase, Baptiste took to the outdoor track this summer to claim the 100-200m double at the Loughborough International – the former taken in just short of his fastest time since his 10.26 clocking in 2008 – fifth place in the European Team championships in Norway for Great Britain and finished just out of the medals at the UK championships and European trials in July.
Forced to undergo a behind-the-scenes ‘race-off’ for the third and final plane ticket to Spain, Baptiste lost the battle to impress the selectors but gained redemption for his rejection twelve weeks later by surprising his critics to clinch the Commonwealth crown.
“I think the 200m is very strong at the moment and has developed a lot over the last three years,” Baptiste explained.
“All of us are pushing each other onto faster and faster times. Next year I aim to make the World Championship team (in Daegu, South Korea), and if successful my ultimate goal is to make the final.”
Naming his mother as his biggest inspiration, Baptiste has chosen to bypass the 2010/11 indoor season in order to focus on next summer as the champion of the Commonwealth intends to continue to make up for lost time by making a mark on the
“Obviously (London) 2012 is in the back of everyone’s mind,” Baptiste revealed.
“However, all along my ambition has been to win Olympic and World Championship medals, regardless of when and where that is.”
Now he is injury-free and has a more recent taste for success, hopefully this sprinter will not have to wait another seven years to receive one.