Baker bol­sters US sprint hopes as 2019 Worlds loom

In­door spe­cial­ist a ‘le­git­i­mate medal threat’

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS - Reuters

Amer­i­can sprinter Ron­nie Baker has never seen a world out­door cham­pi­onship in per­son but af­ter his sparkling 2018 sea­son the world in­door bronze medal­list is prob­a­bly check­ing the weather for next year’s worlds in Doha.

“He has turned him­self into a le­git­i­mate medal threat, and not just in­doors,” four times Olympic sprint medal­ist Ato Boldon told Reuters.

Only world in­door record holder Chris­tian Cole­man has run faster than Baker’s 9.87 sec­onds over 100 me­ters this year, and Baker was more con­sis­tent with five of the nine top times in­clud­ing the yearly lead un­til Cole­man passed him in late Au­gust.

“If he con­tin­ues on this path, he is go­ing to be a medal threat in the next two world cham­pi­onships and the next Olympics,” said Boldon, now a re­spected an­a­lyst.

“He has all the tools to be a 9.7 [sec­onds] guy, and I think the era of 9.7 to win just about ev­ery­thing is upon us. I don’t think it is go­ing to take 9.6 to win in Doha or Tokyo [at the 2020 Olympics].”

A stand­out in­door col­le­giate run­ner, Baker claimed the 2017 US 60-me­ter ti­tle and a year later, at the Amer­i­can world tri­als, be­came the third fastest at 60 me­ters with a run of 6.40 sec­onds to fin­ish be­hind Cole­man. But it was out­doors that the Texas-based sprinter re­ally burst onto the in­ter­na­tional scene.

Con­sis­tency pays

“I had such an amaz­ing sea­son,” Baker said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “Five PRs [per­sonal records], two or three world leads.”

Four Di­a­mond League vic­to­ries and a se­cond to Cole­man in the Di­a­mond League 100 me­ters fi­nal added to the suc­cess. “I ran 13 [100 me­ters] races last sea­son out­doors. I lost three of them and I came se­cond ev­ery sin­gle time,” Baker proudly re­called. “The con­sis­tency for me was huge. That was one thing I was su­per pleased with.” The old­est, at 25, of the young Amer­i­can tri­umvi­rate that has flexed its sprint­ing mus­cles, Baker is not as well-known as Cole­man, 22, the world 100 me­ters sil­ver medal­ist or Noah Lyles, 21, the Di­a­mond League 200 me­ters win­ner and world 300 me­ters in­door record holder. The US also has the de­fend­ing world cham­pion in the 100 me­ters, Justin Gatlin, who will be 37 next Fe­bru­ary. But Baker can no longer be over­looked. “Some­thing hap­pened in the last 12 to 16 months. He’s a dif­fer­ent guy,” Boldon said. “He looked like he was go­ing to be an­other typ­i­cal 60 me­ters spe­cial­ist. But in the last cal­en­dar year I have watched Ron­nie fig­ure out his last 40 me­ters to the point where he doesn’t re­ally need to be the first out of the blocks. “He doesn’t need to be best starter in the race. He un­der­stands the 100 is a dif­fer­ent phi­los­o­phy.” Baker agreed. “I think the best part of my race is def­i­nitely the end,” he said. “I feel like I ac­cel­er­ate re­ally, re­ally well and have good strength and can hold my speed for a pretty good amount of time.” His abil­ity to fo­cus, though, needs a bit of at­ten­tion. “It’s not so much the crowd or any­thing,” said the dis­tant rel­a­tive of US 100 me­ters record holder Tyson Gay. “Some­times I just get side­tracked by the guys in the race. Learn­ing to tune that out is go­ing to be a huge key for me mov­ing for­ward.”

Run­ning more 200s also would help, Boldon said.

“The last bunch of guys who have dom­i­nated the podium, whether it be [Usain] Bolt, Gatlin or oth­ers, all have one thing in com­mon. I call it be­ing mar­ried to the 200,” he said.

“You have to run the 200 as much as you run the 100. That’s where you get the abil­ity to be a great 100 me­ters run­ner. When you are run­ning 200s of­ten, the 100 doesn’t feel long.”

Long sea­son

At least one in­door race is on the sched­ule in the long build-up to the world cham­pi­onships in late Septem­ber.

Baker also plans to work with Fort Worth non­profit Hope Farm as he did in the off-sea­son.

“They men­tor young boys with sin­gle par­ents... with­out fa­thers,” he said. “I’m go­ing to spend time with them. Kind of give them a pos­i­tive male fig­ure.”

In a friendly com­pe­ti­tion with other ath­letes, he also raised $2,500 in a week for the or­ga­ni­za­tion, Baker said. It was all part of a “dream” 2018. “I never imag­ined my­self be­ing the fastest in the world, or even be­ing top five in the world,” he said.

“Track was never my first dream. I wanted to play bas­ket­ball.”

Col­lege and suc­cess in ath­let­ics changed his mind, said Baker, who did both in high school. So how fast can he run? “That’s the one thing I won’t talk about,” Baker said. “I’m just go­ing to train and let the num­bers fall where they may.”

Photo: VCG

Amer­i­can Ron­nie Baker re­acts af­ter win­ning the men’s 100 me­ters fi­nal race at the Muller An­niver­sary Games on July 21 in Lon­don, Eng­land.

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