Mark Lewis-Francis: Sprinting’s Comeback Kid

Introducing the comeback kid: Mark Lewis-Francis. After a year off due to Achilles injuries, the former 100m World Junior Champion was close to giving up running. Then along came new coach Linford Christie, new sponsor Puma and a renewed love of running.

Nearly two years of slog later, Lewis-Francis is collecting medals and making headlines once again. After his 100m European Championship silver and two Commonwealth Games medals, Lewis-Francis was recently restored to UKA's World Class Performance Programme.

He took time out to tell us how he found the mental strength to fight back after injury, his mantra for success and what the renewed funding means to him.

Q. Well done on your success in Delhi! Were you expecting to pick up two medals [silver in the 100m, gold in the 4x100m relay]?

A. I was expecting just to make a comeback this year and the medals I've achieved are an added bonus. My main aim for this year was just to make the teams for the European and Commonwealth Games. To medal at both of them was an achievement beyond expectations.

Q. Your fastest 100m in five years took place in Delhi [10:15]. Now you are fully recovered from injury, how much more can we expect your times to tumble?

A. To be running my fastest time in five years in October is very inspiring for me. I can now get my head down, go back into training and see what happens next year. I don't like putting times out there just in case it doesn't happen. I have the belief and confidence that I can go faster going into next year.

Q. Following your success in Delhi and Barcelona, it has been announced that you are back on top-tier lottery funding from UKA. How does that feel?

A. It's great for me, but I don't want that to overshadow everything that has happened. Last year was a really hard year for me and I can't forget the people who had faith in me: my agent, my coach and Puma. They are the guys who helped me to get where I am today. Being back on lottery funding is great but we are still going to keep it basic. I'm not going to have physio every day. What works for me is the basic life and just going at it like I did when I was a kid. It's about enjoying the sport, using your raw talent and not getting too tied up in getting the funding and seeing nutritionists and physios.

Q. Which Commonwealth medal meant most to you?

A. It's got to be the 100m. It could have been more that it was. If my blocks didn't slip, I think I would have given Lerone Clarke a better race and could have won gold. At the same time I've got to be grateful for what I've got because last year I was at home watching athletics. It was my third Commonwealth Games and the first one that I've walked away with medals from, so it's something I'll remember for life.

Q. And the relay team has returned to form...

A. It was different because it was a new team. For Ryan Scott, on the first leg, it was his first time running at the Commonwealth Games, Leon Baptiste did really well in the individual 200m, then it was me and Marlon who have been doing the relay together for years. It was great to go out there and get a gold medal and correct what happened in Barcelona. We can forget about the negativity of not getting the baton around and finish the season on a high.

Q. There was a lot of media hype about the Games and the organisation in Delhi. Was there a negative atmosphere when you were out there?

A. Not really. The village we were staying in was nice and the training facilities were fine, so it was just a case of going out there, competing and ignoring what was going on in the press. I've stayed in much worse places.

Q. You'll be competing against Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay on next year. What's your strategy for taking them on?

A. We all know that Usain Bolt is an amazing athlete and he can run 9.5, but he doesn't run 9.5 every day. If I can catch him on a day off that would be great. For me just to be able to compete with these guys is amazing. I'm not going to say I'm going to beat them because that's another level right now. My aim is to build up to 2012 and next year to make the teams again. It's the World Championships next year and to finish in the top eight would be an achievement. Anything after that would be a bonus. 

Q. Do you appreciate your success more since you were injured?

A. Most definitely. I achieved a lot as a young kid - World Juniors, fast times as a teenager - and took it all for granted. I think having the Achilles injuries made me appreciate what I've had, what I've got and where I am.

Q. Do you have a motto or mantra?

A. Last year I kept saying 'sacrifice equals reward'. I kept saying it because I was training out of my skin last winter and when I was on the floor in pain I'd be repeating it in my head. That was my motto for 2010.

Q. We produce great junior athletes but that doesn't always translate into running success and medals at a senior level. Why does that happen?

A. Personally my problem was coaching. I had a great coach who took me through the junior levels and who helped me to achieve so much. Then I had trouble finding the next coach to take me up a level. There are so many coaches who say they can do A, B, C for you but when you go to them they can't do it. Then you hit a kind of limbo and don't know what to do or who to turn to. I've finally found a coach who can take me to that level. I've been with Linford Christie now for 19 months and what we've achieved so far is more that I achieved in the last four years with my old coach.

Q. What does Linford do differently?

A. We enjoy athletics and go back to the old way of training and have fun. Before it was regimented and it felt like a chore - now I enjoy training and we've got a great group. We have a laugh and a joke. It sounds crazy but it really works.

Q. What are your thoughts about London 2012?

A. I competed in Manchester in the 2002 Commonwealth Games and that was electric, so having the Olympics in the UK will be amazing. I'd love to be there but I know anything can happen. I wanted to be at Beijing but a big injury stopped me from going. So I'm taking the road to 2012 by stepping stones. I'm taking it day by day and working towards it - at the moment it's like a dream.

Mark Lewis Francis is an ambassador for Puma Running (