It was a wonderful thing to behold. The morning after the 100m final at the European Championships in July, Mark Lewis-Francis bounded down to the foyer of the British team hotel in Barcelona with all of the zest of an overgrown Tigger. "I don't think I slept," he said at the time. "I kept dozing off, then waking up thinking, 'Is it real? Is it real?' It felt like Christmas Eve."
Five months on, in Christmas week, the 28-year-old is still in a state of high excitement about the shiny toy of a silver medal he managed to win in the Catalan capital, and the one he earned to match it from the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October. "If someone had said this time last year that I'd be sitting here with two medals I would have said, 'No way'," Lewis-Francis says. "I've been waiting a long time for this.
"I've been given the opportunity before and messed up, so to come through all of the injuries and negativity and get two major championship medals... I couldn't ask for anything more. I'm sitting here now feeling on top of the world. I'm a really happy guy, but at the same time I'm still focused and looking at the bigger picture."
That bigger picture will come into sharp focus in the pre-Olympic year of 2011. The main event of the year is not at European or Commonwealth level but the global challenge of the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in August. Lewis-Francis might have clocked his fastest time for five years in 2010, in the heats in Delhi, but 10.15sec is good enough to place him only 43rd in the world rankings – joint 43rd, to be precise.
"I think you're going to have to run sub-10 seconds to make the final at the World Championships," Lewis-Francis says. "But, then, at the Europeans when I stood on the start line I didn't think I'd be getting a medal and ended up getting the silver in front of some really good athletes. So nothing's impossible. That's my attitude."
It was like a blast from the past when the sprinter with the double-barrelled surname shot to the silver medal in Barcelona, behind the young French flyer Christophe Lemaitre. Since his days as a teenage prodigy (the world junior 100m champion in 2000) and as the anchor man in the victorious British 4 x 100m relay team at the Athens Olympics in 2004, Lewis-Francis has endured some hard times – having surgery to both Achilles tendons, struggling to recapture the speed of his youth and being dropped from Lottery funding.
The key to the revival of his fortunes has been the guidance he has been receiving on the training track from his coach of two years, Linford Christie. "I think athletics is 80 per cent confidence and Linford has given me that," Lewis-Francis says. "He was there for me when I was getting no financial or medical help last year. So was my agent, Ricky Simms. I can't thank them enough for their support.
"Linford has picked up a wounded soldier and put him back where he needs to be," he adds. "I feel very humbled with what I've done this year. After my Achilles operations I didn't think I'd be in a major championship final ever again. It just goes to show that I've still got the fire in my heart."
Mark Lewis-Francis will compete at the Aviva International Match in Glasgow on 29 January and the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham on 19 February. For more information and tickets please go to: uka.org.ukReuse content