WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
In an effort to break into world-class, British 800m runner Darren St.Clair spends half of each year in America and recently, this sacrifice is paying dividends, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 25-year-old Enfield and Haringey half-lap runner is currently training in Arizona with the Canadian middle-distance squad in a six-month stint during the winter and spring.
Guided by Wynn Gmitroski on each side of the Pond, St. Clair is relishing being able to spend time with the coach who has been instrumental in his noticeable progression in the past two seasons.
“I usually split my time between living in London - working part time in a running store and training - and then travel to Arizona to train full-time,” St.Clair explained.
“Arizona is perfect for training, where the weather is between 20-30-degrees every day and with Flagstaff - which we use for altitude training - only an hour drive away, it has everything you need to be able to prepare and perform when the track season starts.”
It is this dedication to live abroad and his meticulous preparation which has aided St.Clair’s journey from talented junior to potential Olympian.
The St Mary’s university graduate has plied his trade as an 800m athlete since the age of fourteen - taking English silver medals as a schoolboy and under-23, reaching the heats of the 2003 European under-20 championships in Finland and placing fourth in the 2007 continental under-23 edition in Hungary - but it wasn’t until the summer of 2009 when he began to make his mark.
Sitting second on the British rankings for the year with a best of 1:46.20, St.Clair had improved in his specialist event by over a second and even registered a swift 46.17 to place tenth on the national 400m list.
Capitalising on his fine form, St.Clair went onto enjoy an even better 2010 – again, securing second spot on the British radar to go thirty-third on the all-time lists, courtesy of another lifetime best, a scintillating 1:45.74.
Opening his season in the US, he then finished third in the UK championships to just miss out on selection for the European Championships and won the English crown before clocking his best at the Aviva London IAAF Grand Prix at Crystal Palace in August to book his spot on Team England’s squad for his first major senior championship – the Commonwealth Games.
It was there in Delhi, India that St.Clair finished a respectable sixth in a tactical final (1:52.66) but the Asics-sponsored runner had mixed emotions of his momentous year:
“My 2009-2010 season was one of huge highs as well as some lows,” St.Clair explained.
“Obviously missing out on the European Championships was hugely disappointing for myself but I knew training had gone really well and I was in great shape, so I remained focused on preparation for the Commonwealth Games and running a personal best for the 800m.
My experience at the Commonwealth Games overall was a feeling of huge satisfaction and I felt extremely proud of achieving a life-long dream and representing my country at a major championships. Not only for myself, but it was a truly amazing experience for my friends and family who have supported me throughout my athletics career.”
Although disappointed with a below-par execution in the final due to fatigue and a torn adductor muscle from his warm-up - which also forced him to miss the 4x400m relay - St.Clair remained optimistic for future opportunities:
“I feel all this will make me stronger and make me more determined to come out this year and perform at the 2011 World Championships in South Korea,” St.Clair revealed.
It is the aforementioned event in Daegu this coming August which represents St.Clair’s biggest aim for 2011 – making his competitive debut on the global stage.
Such is his desire to make a bigger impact on the track this summer and further improve his times, St.Clair has chosen to bypass the current indoor season in order to concentrate on his outdoor campaign:
“Each year, I generally do not compete indoors so that I can build up my general endurance base which is vital for my success in the summer,” St.Clair explained.
“I will then usually start my outdoor season in April in America before going up to altitude training in May for three weeks and coming back to race in Europe in June and July.”
On his return to the UK 800m scene, St.Clair will find some tough opposition – all eager to fight for the same championship selection spots in a fast-improving discipline:
“The depth at the top is definitely getting better,” St.Clair explained.
“With athletes such as Michael Rimmer, Andrew Osagie and Gareth Warburton, every time you race against these guys you have to be prepared to bring out your ‘A game’ otherwise you can get beat. The difference is training smart and be willing to go after what you want and believe in yourself.”
With aspirations to one day permanently move to Vancover –such is the strength of his relationships with his Canadian training partners – St.Clair would also like to work as a physiotherapist – all after, of course, taking a crack at 2012.
“(The) 2012 (Olympics) is only a step away and I am certainly working towards being able to perform at my home Olympics in front of a home crowd,” St.Clair revealed.
“My aim is to be one of the best 800m athletes in the world and go to the Olympics and World Championships and pick up medals.”
And what with his current rate of progression, he may just fulfil his wish, thanks to his dedication at home and across the Atlantic.