Commonwealth Games 2014: Michelle-Lee Ahye running from the 'rough' times

The 22-year-old has now found happiness on and off the track
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The favourite to win the women's 100 metres at the Commonwealth Games, Trinidad and Tobago's Michelle-Lee Ahye, wants to double up and take gold in the 200m. Given that she is also a colourful character, she could become the Usain Bolt of women's sprinting.

The 22-year-old was just six years old when the realisation dawned that she might have a talent. During a PE lesson in a straight race with her classmates, she fell over, got up and still beat the field. The next week, her mother, Raquel, enrolled her at the local athletics club. For much of the intervening years, she has been running towards a better life.

"It was rough," she recalls of her upbringing ahead of the first round of the 100m this afternoon. "Mum didn't have much. When I was a baby, it was hard for her to buy Pampers and milk for me as my dad wasn't around. Track is my way out, my way to look after my mum, so I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I'd fight to do whatever it takes to take care of her."

The bond between mother and daughter is incredibly tight. Of Ahye's 12 tattoos, her first was her mother's name on her back. The one on her left forearm, however, is the most pertinent to her turbulent upbringing. The words inked on say: "Laugh now, cry later".

"I went through a lot of ups and downs – one minute smiling the next crying; there's been tears on and off the track," she says.

Her father, Sean, left when she was in her mother's womb. Father and daughter have attempted a reconciliation since 2012 but Ahye admits they are still struggling to get the right balance.

"He came to watch me run at London 2012 and I tried to let him in but it didn't work," she says. "I talk to him on and off but I can't forgive him for what he did. Mum always tried to hide the situation from me but I knew what was going on from when I was young.

"I remember hearing her on the phone begging my dad to buy school books. He would always says he doesn't have it [the money]. When I was born he told my mum I'm not his kid. I asked him about it when I went to Christmas at his in 2012. When I spoke to him he was like, 'I wasn't sure'. I love him but I just can't forgive him for what he did."

Happiness has been sought and found on the track. Ahye, who runs with socks bought from a friend's shop with the words Flaming Hot on them, is the second fastest woman in 2014 with a best time of 10.85 seconds and unbeaten in her last 10 races.

Ahye has a chance to become one of the stars of the Games. Competition will come from Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare and Veronica Campbell-Brown in particular though a left hamstring strain in the build-up to Glasgow has been a cause for concern. "I guess I'm running too fast," she says laughing off the injury. "It's nothing serious. It's a worry but I'm going in confident I can get gold in the 100m and 200m." The injury forced her to miss the Monaco Diamond League, which made her cry. "When I can't run, I get emotional. I felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart." There were also tears when her idol, Marion Jones, was exposed as a drugs cheat, which broke her heart.

There are those that question Ahye's sudden surge in speed but she says: "I was on Facebook and I saw someone saying, 'I hope she's clean' and I just laugh. There's always critics but I blank them. I'm racing clean." She also points to the fact that she came late to sprinting. 2007 to 2011 were injury-plagued seasons, her hamstrings popping alternately, with the additional issue of a hip problem. Since working with coach Eric Francis injuries have dissipated and the times dipped.

Ahye is not satisfied with where she currently stands. She wants Commonwealth gold along with world and Olympic titles, and believes she can run 10.6sec. "I want to be the greatest of all time and I'm working towards it."