Christmas comes early for born-again Lewis-Francis

Unlikely 100m silver rewards fresh attitude after years of underachievement

It was the morning after the night before and Mark Lewis-Francis could not have radiated a more sparkling glow had he won the gold medal in the European Championships 100 metres final rather than the silver. "I'm over the moon," he said (not an entirely unnatural feeling for someone who happens to be a resident of Slough, the home of the Mars Bar). "I don't think I slept. I kept dozing off, then waking up thinking, 'Is it real? Is it real?'... It felt like Christmas Eve."

At 10am at the team hotel yesterday, though, the British sprinter who had done a carpe diem job in the big race the previous evening had yet to unwrap his shiny present. The medal presentation ceremony was to come later yesterday, back at the Montjuic Olympic Stadium.

"It's one of those presents you know your grandma's going to bring you in the afternoon, and you know it's going to be the best one," Lewis-Francis continued, all wide-eyed like one of Jimmy Stewart's kids in It's a Wonderful Life, aged 27 going on five again. "Like a shiny new bike?" it was suggested. "Yeah, definitely that," Lewis-Francis concurred. "Hey, to come here as underdog and to leave with a medal... that's storybook stuff."

It is that. It would be stretching it more than a little to suggest that Lewis-Francis had ever sunk so low that he had considered jumping off a bridge and bringing an end to it all, as Stewart's character did in the classic Frank Capra film before the divine intervention of his guardian angel. The one-time boy wonder from the Black Country, the world junior 100m champion of 2000, fell upon some desperately hard times, though, after the memorable night in Athens six years ago when he held off Maurice Greene and anchored the Great Britain 4x100m relay team to Olympic gold.

He tested positive for cannabis, receiving a three-month suspension and a public warning. He had surgery to the Achilles tendon on his right foot, then surgery to the Achilles tendon on his left foot. He lost his Lottery funding and had to start eating into his savings to continue as a full-time athlete. The coach who had unearthed him as a raw kid and nurtured him on to the world stage, Steve Platts, died of cancer. And he also endured the trials and tribulations of upping sticks from the West Midlands and moving himself and his young family to the south, changing coaches and training groups not once but twice.

"I was in a really bad place, physically and mentally," Lewis-Francis said. "I had no emotion. I didn't know if I could carry on doing it. I started to have doubts that I never thought I would have. It was Linford Christie who motivated me. He gave me the belief again.

"I kept thinking, 'Am I too old to come back?' And he told me he was 32 when he won [the 1992 Olympics] in Barcelona. He said, 'Look, I did it; so you can you.' That definitely spurred me on. Plus he's had legends in the past, you know: Darren Campbell, Katharine Merry, Merlene Ottey, Frankie Fredericks, a whole bunch of people. Sometimes I think he doesn't get the credit for that."

Christie has been described as a lot of things in his time but perhaps never before as a guardian angel. For the past 18 months the fastest British runner of all time has been steadily knocking Lewis-Francis back into shape. The fruits of Christie's coaching labours emerged from the four-man blur behind the victorious Christophe Lemaitre in the European 100m final in the Montjuic arena on Wednesday night.

After intense scrutiny of the photo-finish picture, it was announced that Lewis-Francis's charge had won the silver medal by 0.001sec, with Dwain Chambers (struck by calf cramp in the semi-finals that he asked to be kept a secret, not wishing to make any public excuse for his defeat) out of the medals in fifth place, just 0.006sec behind. Having finished fifth in the trials meeting in Birmingham last month and been picked originally only for relay duty, and having scraped through from the semi-finals as a fastest loser, Lewis-Francis was back in high-speed business as a major championship medal winner again.

"I knew when I crossed the finish line that I was in a good position," he reflected. "I would have said third but when they said second and I saw the photo-finish picture I was like, 'I'll take it'. One-thousandth of a second!... You could see on the picture: I've got that 32 double D chest.

"Yeah, great moment, great moment. It means so much to me after everything I've been through. It's the same feeling as winning the relay gold in Athens. Maybe even better."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk / Trainee Application Support Analyst - Hampshire

£25000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor