In his last race before leaving for the Team GB Olympic training camp in Macau, Andy Baddeley paid the price for glancing over his shoulder in the home straight at Crystal Palace a fortnight ago. In his anxiety to check whether Bernard Lagat, the reigning world 1500m and 5,000m champion, was getting in position to launch an attack, the 26-year-old Cambridge graduate afforded Shadrack Korir the cushion he needed to win the Emsley Carr Mile.
Still, finishing 0.08sec behind the Kenyan who won 1500m bronze at the World Championships in Osaka last summer and taking the prized scalp of Lagat represented another impressive performance by the man who, by necessity of his chosen profession as a British 1500m runner and miler busy making his mark on the global stage, has been obliged to spend much of his time looking backwards.
Not that Baddeley has any first-hand recall of the golden British middle-distance era that he has come to be questioned about as routinely over the past 14 months as the diagnostic chip that was implanted in his upper chest when he suffered heart palpitations four years ago – and which remains there, with a flat battery, simply because he has not had the time to undergo the surgery required to remove it.
At 26, his Olympic memory bank stretches back no farther than Barcelona in 1992. Even then, he can picture Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell striking gold for Britain on the track but not Fermin Cacho winning the 1500m for the host nation.
"I know who he is now," Baddeley said of the Spaniard, "but I can't remember watching him. It's the same with Coe, Ovett and Cram. I know what they achieved..."
It made a change for Baddeley to raise the subject of the three musketeers of British middle-distance running rather than to have the deeds of his all-conquering predecessors presented to him like some historical national yoke. "I've watched the videos and I know what they used to run like," he said. "The rules of middle-distance running haven't changed. You've got to be in the mix in order to win, but you don't necessarily have to be leading the whole way."
In the pursuit of learning his professional craft, Baddeley has clearly undertaken the kind of assiduous research that earned him a double first in aero-nautical engineering. Baddeley was not even born when Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe fought their 800m and 1500m duels at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. He was only two when Coe beat Steve Cram to the 1500m gold in Los Angeles in 1984.
Last month Baddeley got the chance to catch up with Ovett and Coe at a magazine launch. "That was the first time I'd met them," he said. "They were both very encouraging, very positive. They gave me a few little titbits about the Olympics. Steve Ovett said, 'Don't worry about it, it's just another race'. Seb Coe said, 'It's really special, it's the Olympics'. Two sort of contrasting points of view."
So which did Baddeley believe, then? "A bit of both, I think," he said. "You know, it's just a track and it's just guys that I know I've got to race. But at the same time it is the Olym-pics and I should get excited about that. I asked Steve about when I ran not too well in an 800m race in Grangemouth last month and he just said, 'Anyone can make an idiot of themselves'. He said he did it all the time, 'Just do it in the right races'."
Ovett repeated the pearl of wisdom that he dropped after winning the 800m in Moscow, the self-deprecating realisation that "any idiot can become an Olympic champion". Not that Baddeley happens to be anybody's idea of a fool. Since making his initial breakthrough at international level last summer, beating Lagat in a 1500m race in Sheffield and reaching the World Champion-ship 1500m final in Osaka, where he finished ninth, there has been a smartness about his racing and about his background preparation. Like Ovett, Coe and Cram all did before him, he dipped into the traditional Harrier scene of cross-country and road-running last winter to put the foundations in place for his Olympic challenge.
Baddeley also headed Down Under for a second successive winter to train with Craig Mottram, the Australian who won a World Championship 5,000m bronze in Helsinki in 2005.
The benefits were clear to see when the Wirral-born, Teddington-based runner contested the Dream Mile in Oslo in June. Judging his tactical effort to perfection, Baddeley was victorious in 3min 49.38sec. In doing so, he became the first British winner of the race since Peter Elliott in 1991 and the sixth Briton to break 3min 50sec for the mile, following in the footsteps, chronologically, of Coe, Ovett, Dave Moorcroft, Cram and Elliott.
The one obvious chink in Baddeley's racing armour is a lack of the kind of razor-sharp basic speed that took Coe to an 800m world record of 1min 41.73 sec, Cram and Elliott to times under 1:43 for the two-lap distance, and Ovett to a best of 1:44.09. By comparison, Baddeley's lifetime best, 1:46.32, is decidedly modest.
Nonetheless, such is his racing acumen and his rapidly maturing pedigree that the burgeoning Briton is being mentioned as a possible medal contender in the 1500m in Beijing. Twentyyears after Elliott collected Britain's last medal in the event – a silver behind Kenya's Peter Rono in Seoul – dare Baddeley dream of making the big step up on to the Olympic podium?
"I always dare to dream of a medal," he said. "But in terms of how realistic it is, we'll have to wait and see. In terms of my expectations, at the moment they do not go beyond one race: the 1500m heats. You can't do anything in the final unless you make it through the two rounds before that. I'm not going to get too excited. I've got to get through the rounds first before thinking about the final. That's foremost in my mind right now."
Keeping his body from getting overexcited is an ongoing concern for Baddeley, though not as frightening as it was when his heart first started racing out of control. That was midway through a training session in 2004. "At the time, when I didn't know what was happening, it was not a very pleasant feeling," he reflected. "My heartbeat went very irregular, very quick, and that made it difficult to breathe. I felt pretty weak and had numbness in my left arm.
"I got taken into hospital and they put the diagnostic chip into my chest to record the palpitations when they happened. After the first three months they decided there was nothing to worry about. I just haven't had the chance to organise getting the chip taken out. I do still get mild 15- to 20-second episodes once every couple of months but it's something I'm used to, something I can control."
If he can get himself into medal contention down the home straight in Beijing, though, Britain's middle-distance revivalist will have many a heart aflutter back home.Reuse content