Q&A WITH… LEON BAPTISTE

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Country: Great Britain

Profession: Coach

Career highlights:

  • 2x Commonwealth Games gold medallist – 200m and 4x100m relay
  • 2003 European Junior Championships gold medallist – 100m

2010 Commonwealth Games 200m champion Leon Baptiste retired in 2014 after he wasn’t able to fully recover from a knee injury that had ruled him out of the London 2012 Olympic Games. He now works as coach.

Can you tell us about the moment you realized you had become Commonwealth Champion in 2010?

That win was definitely the highlight of my career. I was sometimes known as someone who was a very talented junior and struggled at senior level – you know, running really well in the heats and semi-finals but never really delivered in the final.  So there was a lot of pressure at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, even though I didn’t go into the race as the favourite. I was quietly confident though, and felt like I was in the best shape I could be in, and it was just an opportunity for me to go out there and deliver and show what I could do. When I won, the feeling was amazing and it’s something that I will never forget.

For you, what is the most technical part of the 200m and why?

How you come off the bend and the momentum that you carry going into the bend is key. But the last 50m is also a huge part of the race, a lot of a lot of races are won in that last 50m. Everyone is slowing down at that point in the race but the person who slows down the least is usually the one that wins. I think it is having that ability to stay relaxed under pressure, running the bend well and then coming home strong.  

What is it like being part of the Commonwealth Games now as a coach rather than an athlete?

The Commonwealth Games are one of my earliest memories of watching athletics and I’ve always been a fan. From my perspective as an athlete, I really enjoyed the experience, and even though I only went to one, winning two gold medals was an amazing experience. But now as a coach I’m able to coach many people to compete there and it’s been really fantastic to see the athletes I work with at the Games this year (it is my first group of athletes that I have coached make it to the Commonwealth Games). I had five athletes all making the final and four brought back medals which was fantastic.

When have you felt the most challenged?

As an athlete it was back in 2004 when I had surgery on my knee shortly after the world junior championships. I found that very challenging psychologically because the people that I was beating as a junior were now beating me as a senior athlete. I had a long period of trying to find myself and it took around seven years to get back to my best.

As a coach and I’ve had a pretty smooth ride so far but sometimes when athletes don’t run to the best of their ability even tough everything has gone well with training, it is quite difficult to take. You know there must be a reason for it and when you can’t find that reason it can be frustrating. But thankfully it’s not really happened that much in my coaching career so far, I tend to know why things haven’t gone to plan.

What is the last thing you tell an athlete before they go compete?

I always tell them to run their race. It might sound a bit cliché but it’s important to have your own tunnel vision. You can easily get caught up and run other people’s race and tap into their rhythms that aren’t usual for you. So run your race and have the ability to stay relaxed under pressure, they are the key things to sprinting.

What is the WORST advice you have ever received as either an athlete or coach?

I’ve had a few people over the years I was an athlete just telling me to just give up because they’ve never seen me run on TV or things didn’t go as planned. I would end up finishing 7th or 8th and they would say why don’t you just leave it.  That was wasn’t good advice and it wasn’t encouraging.  It’s OK not to win every race, it is pretty normal. That was bad advice, and I am glad I did continue because I would have never achieved what I did in my athletic career and then also my coaching career. You need to have that desire and hunger to achieve. I certainly had that as a sprinter but sometimes you can question yourself if you surround yourself with people who aren’t positive and fall into that negative category.

What do you do for fun, when you are not busy developing coaching programs?

I’m very keen boxer. I took up boxing eight years ago and I’ve got huge passion for it. I train 4/5 times a week and I’ve had some competitions!

What is your favourite place to visit when you are not working?

I quite like Switzerland; it is a really beautiful country with good scenery. There are a few places in the UK that I go to fairly often too. I am a big fan of nature parks and reservoirs where you can just chill and go for a walk and see good scenery.

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