Mark Lewis-Francis: 'I've been to hell and back'
By Alex Spink
Until a fortnight ago Mark Lewis-Francis was the British sprinter that time forgot.
An afterthought for selection to the 100m team for the European Athletics Championships, an extra on the set of Europe's Fastest Man starring Dwain Chambers and Christophe Lemaitre.
But then he won the silver medal behind Frenchman Lemaitre and the script had to be rewritten - as the 27-year-old became the British story.
At Crystal Palace tomorrow the comeback continues when he takes on Tyson Gay, the slayer of Usain Bolt, in the Aviva London Grand Prix. Only one of them has an Olympic gold medal and it is not the American. Yet in the six years since Athens and his sprint relay glory, Lewis-Francis has plumbed the depths of despair.
"I was in a very, very dark place," he said of a spiral of misfortune which began with a torn Achilles tendon and led to him losing his lottery funding.
"You kind of shut off from the outside world and retreat into a cave. You can't watch any athletics because any that you do watch really hurts.
"I was in a really bad way and when I did come back, I was beaten by everybody.
"I never thought of giving up.
Athletics is my life. I've been doing it since I was 13. I love competing, I love the adrenalin on the starting line.
"The big question for me was always 'Can I get back to where I was?'. It was that doubt which was the scariest part of all."
It was Linford Christie, Britain's former Olympic 100m champion, who made him believe again and through careful coaching, inspired him to last month's silver heroics.
And it was Christie who had Lewis-Francis back in training within a day of him arriving back from Barcelona.
"There's still a lot of work to do," said the 'Darlaston Dart', who was at fault for the British team's elimination from the sprint relay only days after his own medal run.
"This is just the start, the sky is the limit for me, but I'm not getting ahead of myself.
"I am aiming for the Commonwealth Games and, before that, I want to run a quick time at Crystal Palace.
"I know I'm in shape to go out there and do that. But I'm not quite in the league of Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt or even Tyson Gay. Not yet.
"I'm a realist. After all the stuff I have been through, that's the way it has to be."
BORN: Sept 4, 1982
2000: Wins world junior gold in the 100m.
2001: Takes world indoor bronze in the 60m; runs 100m in junior record time of 9.97 but faulty wind gauge means time is not ratified.
2002: Wins European indoor silver (60m).
2004: Wins Olympic gold in 4x100m relay.
2005: Tests positive for cannabis after the European indoors in Madrid and stripped of the 60m silver.
Blames it on passive smoking.
Wins world championships bronze in the 4x100m relay.
2007: Bronze in world championships (4x100m relay).
2009: Stripped of lottery funding by UK Athletics
2010: Wins 100m silver in Barcelona.