Mark Lewis-Francis of Great Britain will renew his rivalry with French star Christophe Lemaitre at the European Athletics indoor Championships in Paris.
Britain’s Lewis-Francis looking to build on 2010 silver success
In the past 12 months, British sprinter Mark Lewis-Francis has finally started to realise the potential he showed as an 18-year-old on the other side of the world when he won the 100m gold medal at the 2000 World Junior Championships in Chile.
He backed that up by winning the blue riband event again at the European Athletics Junior Championships the following year and further gold medals came his way in the form of his reward for being part of successful 4x100m quartets at the 2004 Olympics Games and the 2006 European Athletics Championships.
It also continued to prove Lewis-Francis had the potential to succeed individually on the world stage even if ill-timed injuries also stymied his progress for much of the last decade.
However, in 2010, nearly everything came right for the 28-year-old man from the English Midlands.
Lewis-Francis followed home France’s 2010 European Athlete of the Year Christophe Lemaître in the 100m at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona this summer, finishing second before crowning his year with another individual silver at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, adding a 4x100m gold medal just a few days later.
Now, Lewis-Francis is looking to take on Lemaître again, this time over 60m at the 2011 European Athletics Indoor Championships, which will be held in Paris between 4-6 March.
Lewis-Francis has marked the Aviva International Match in Glasgow on January 29 and the Aviva Grand Prix in his hometown of Birmingham on February 19 in his diary as the important stepping stones on a path which should end with him taking on Lemaître again, this time in front of the Savoy sprinter’s own family and friends in the French capital.
“It’s been an amazing year; I can’t knock it at all. To have had all the injuries that I've had and then to come back and achieve what I've achieved; I couldn’t ask for anything more,” reflected Lewis-Francis in an interview with the UK Athletics website www.uka.org.uk
“The training so far this winter has been right on the point and it has had to be as there’s so much to work for. Right at the end of it all is the World Championships (in Daegu, South Korea, in August) and I'm desperate to win my place in the team for that.
“There’s obviously the huge indoor meets at Glasgow and Birmingham this year, which I can’t wait for. Last season was such a long season and hopefully I’ll be able to carry through some of my form into this indoor Aviva Series.
“I’m in a really good place at the moment and everything’s going amazingly well. I just want to take it step-by-step and not get ahead of myself.
“I love representing my country. In Glasgow and Birmingham I’ll be wearing the Great Britain vest (for the first time indoors since 2007) and I can’t wait. It’s such a close environment, particularly in Glasgow, with the crowd right on top of you cheering you on, which is an incredible lift.
“Performing in front of your home crowd is such an honour and blessing, and I just hope we as a team can show the public what us British athletes can do and what we’re all about.
“Kelvin Hall (in Glasgow) is a great venue, I always love going there and competing. To get the opportunity again to be first pick for the 60m indoors is a great honour and is something I never take for granted. It’s my first vest of 2011 and after working so hard for my vest in 2010, I'm not going to let it go.”
The sprinter admitted his successful 2010 means that there will be added pressure this winter, but he also believes that he can achieve his goal of bettering his personal 60m best of 6.51, which dates back to 2001 and remains the world best by a junior, coming when he finished third at the World Indoor Championships that year.
“There’s more expectation on myself than expectation from other people that’s for sure. I think the general public, and people that know me as an athlete, are just happy to see me competing again, which is very overwhelming. It’s great to know there are people out there who believe in me,” he added.
“To have the support of my coach, my agent and UKA – and have my funding again – is absolutely amazing and nothing I take for granted.
“There is a little bit of pressure because there are people who are putting their faith back into me and I don’t want to let them down or go back to square one after working so hard to earn their support.
“My Achilles operation could have been career threatening, but I’ve put myself in a good position, got a good coach and worked from there.
“At the beginning, I had doubts because there were so many setbacks, and then I thought to myself: ‘Have I lost my talent?’
“But I kept reminding myself that you never lose talent, you just have to work to find it. Basically, that’s helped me find my mojo again.”
In the summer, in addition to attempting to do well at the World Championships, Lewis-Francis will be looking to improve on his 100m personal best of 10.04, which has also stood since he was a teenager in 2002.