Athletics: Dashing Baulch flees underdog's life

Norman Fox reports on a runner keen to emulate his legendary coaches
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The Independent Online
Jamie Baulch is good news, and athletics badly needs good news. Although almost a seasoned campaigner, who ran in Britain's 4 x 400m Olympic silver medal-winning squad, the sunny, dreadlocked, 23-year-old began this particular indoor season ranked beyond 200 in the world for the 400m. Today he is in the top half dozen and flying. Telling him to keep his feet on the ground is pointless. He keeps saying he feels like Michael Johnson and that there is "more to come".

Johnson, of course, has slightly the better credentials, but with athletics in Britain so downtrodden, the idea of Baulch and his generation taking the baton from Roger Black and leading Europe's challenge at this summer's World Championships in Athens is a dream that could save it from a continuing plunge into insolvency and irrelevance.

Baulch was brought up in Wales, which is one of the reasons why Colin Jackson has taken a keen and financially helpful role in bringing him to the forefront of Britain's most competitive track event. Jackson says that though he and Linford Christie may have added technical skills to Baulch's natural sprinting talent, mainly they have helped him acquire some of their aura. It is important, as Jackson explains, to "act the part" instead of the underdog, which Baulch once considered to be his place.

Christie, the ultimate "presence", has mapped out Baulch's training this winter, leading to seven personal-best indoor performances over 400, 200 and 60m, as well as a British record and two 400m wins over the world indoor champion, Darnell Hall. Jackson recently predicted that Baulch would run under 46sec indoors. Last weekend he was proved right. Baulch's time of 45.39sec in Birmingham beat Todd Bennett's 12-year-old British record. "I didn't even think about the time," Baulch said. "I think about winning, not times."

His determination, first noticed when he beat Roger Black in 1995, is particularly visible when he breaks from lane and makes it clear who is the boss. His confidence is equally obvious in his attitude. He dismisses any notion that he could be peaking too early. Another PB is likely in France today and the world indoor title next month is a distinct possibility. "If Michael Johnson isn't going to be in Paris, I'm going there to win."

Five weeks' training in Australia with Christie and Jackson towards the end of last year added a lot to his progress. While Jackson personally has continued to coach him, Christie has set out a programme of weight and sprint training. Baulch says the difference between Jackson's and Christie's schedules is that "Colin's always made me physically sick". Christie advises less gut-wrenching sprints although it was Jackson who 18 months ago began to turn Baulch's sprinting talent into good use over 400m.

Meanwhile one of Baulch's great domestic rivals, Mark Hylton, has been training with Black, Jon Ridgeon and Mark Richardson. The top British 400m runners are now divided between two camps, which adds some spice to competition and falls in line with the communal preparation Americans advocate. Baulch says that being with "the ones who have reached the top of the tree" is clearing his mind for the real targets.

Born in Nottingham, he is the adopted son of a couple from Newport in Gwent. For several years he was coached by Jock Anderson, who divided his time between training athletes and greyhounds.

In the 1994 European Indoor Championships in Paris Baulch tripped and ruined his chances. Why has he suddenly become a world force this season? "Probably all of us in the relay team last year want to make up for missing out on the individual event," he said.

He often curses Jackson, "the slave driver", but reckons he owes him. A gold medal when he returns to Paris would be a suitable first down-payment.

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