Athletics: Lewis-Francis agrees change of coach to revive ailing career

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The Independent Online

With perhaps a faint nudge from the recently installed UK Athletics performance director, Dave Collins, he has agreed to leave Steve Platt, the coach who has guided him since he was a 12-year-old, and shift his training base from Birmingham to Surrey.

There he will join the thriving group guided by Tony Lester which includes his fellow Olympic sprint relay gold medallist Marlon Devonish, relay squad member Chris Lambert, Olympic 200m finalist Abi Oyepitan and rising 400m talent Tim Benjamin. Speaking at what will become his new athletics home, the Thames Valley Athletics Centre which sits just across the road from the playing fields of Eton College, the 22-year-old alumnus of the George Salter High School in West Bromwich made it clear that this had been a wrenchingly emotional decision.

But, given that his progress over the past four years had become as dynamic as the Eton Wall Game, there was also a feeling of inevitability, and relief, about the move.

Having had the athletics world at his blurringly fast feet five years ago, when he won the world junior 100m title, he was tipped by no less an observer than the reigning Olympic champion, Donovan Bailey, to inherit his title. But Lewis-Francis has become an increasingly erratic performer, notwithstanding his Olympic sprint relay gold last summer. Bad became worse in June when he was stripped of his world indoor bronze medal after testing positive for cannabis.

"I've lost my love of athletics over the last couple of years because of the pressure," said Lewis-Francis, who will now look for somewhere to live with his partner and son. "I want to get back to enjoying my sport. I'm putting my life in Tony Lester's hands. I know that I've got potential that needs to be found and if it's found it will be amazing.

"I was on the brink of moving last year but I wanted to give it another season to see what my options were. Making this decision is a relief, but it's a loss as well because I am losing a great person. Steve is the most coolest guy on the planet and he's helped me achieve so much. But I've been training on my own in Birmingham and sometimes when I get up and I'm hurting it's been hard to motivate myself. With Tony I'll be training with people who will keep me up to the mark." Collins denied that much pressure had been required to alter Lewis-Francis's approach. "I was pushing against an open door," he said, adding with a hint of menace that other, stickier doors remained to be tried. Should they remain obstinately shut, the removal of Lottery funding may be used as a lever. They have been warned.