Rarely tipped as an Olympic medal contender, can Andy Baddeley float under the radar to make the podium at London 2012?
Not since the Eighties has Britain won a medal in the men’s 1500m. Seb Coe won the 1980 and 1984 titles, Steve Cram silver in 1984, Steve Ovett bronze in 1980 and Peter Elliott silver in 1988. Cram, meanwhile, beat Coe and Ovett’s world records for 1500m and the mile, in addition to winning the world title. It created a rich tradition which has weighed heavily on British middle-distance runners ever since.
Andy Baddeley is the latest to fly the flag in the metric mile. The 30-year-old was ninth in Beijing four years ago and won his race at the Aviva Trials with a cool performance earlier this summer. Will London 2012 be his moment? Can he get a British miler back on to the podium at a global championship?
We are standing outside the Alexander Stadium the day after his trials victory. Like so many days this summer, it’s raining. But Baddeley doesn’t seem too bothered. He smiles his way through the interview in relaxed style and is quietly confident without being complacent or cocky.
“I always told myself that part one of this year would be to get the qualifying time,” he explains, “part two would be the trials and part three the Olympics.”
So far, so good. When it comes to the clock, he ran 3:35.19 at Stanford in late April to get that job out the way. The trials, meanwhile, saw him track Ross Murray as the youngster made a long run for home with just over a lap to go before kicking past him in the home straight.
The early pace had seen the runners pass 800m in a pedestrian 2:10 – an unusually slow pace for an elite runner surely? “It is a jog but more uncomfortable than running quick as it’s not very efficient,” he says. “I’d watched some of Ross’s races and he had previously gone with about 450m to go so I was expecting it.”
The dynamics of the race would have been much different if Mo Farah had run, but the world 5000m champion ran in the heats only before pulling out of the final to concentrate on the European Championships in Helsinki. “During the week I’d been talking about Mo and Ross – the three with the A standard who you would expect to be at the front,” said Baddeley.
“I would have loved to have raced him but it would have made things a lot more difficult! It’s nice we have a superstar in Mo that everyone wants to talk about. Would have brought more showbiz to the race but myself and Ross had a job to do – and if Mo had been there then one of us might have had to wait (to be selected).”
So how did Baddeley get himself in such good shape in 2012? In 2011 he ran “only” 3:36.47 for 1500m, was beaten in the UK trials by James Shane, ran a poor 4:06.04 in the Emsley Carr Mile at the London Grand Prix and didn’t get selected for the IAAF World Championships in Daegu. This contrasts with an athlete who, at his best, is a sub-3:50 miler and winner of the Dream Mile in Oslo.
“The ‘secrets’ of success this year is there are there aren’t any,” he said without hesitation. “Last year I tried some ‘secrets’ such as altitude tents and supplements that are meant to buffer lactic, but it was awful. I couldn’t’ run and it got the stage in the season where I was just too tired from whatever it was, I’m not sure.
“So this year we decided to do nothing of that and I didn’t do any of that before Beijing either. So I went to Kenya and then came back for the Euro Cross (he was 25th in Velenje). After I went to Tallahassee in January and February for the East coast indoor meets. Then I had a great training camp in the New Forest before I went out to the West coast for those early season races in California – Mount Sac and Stanford. Then I came back to run a 3000m PB of 7:39.86 in Ostrava.”
Asking Baddeley whether competing in the London Olympics is his proudest moment, he agrees – but he adds that linked to this is the achievement of bouncing back from such a dire 2011 season.
“I felt awful at trials in 2011 and worse at Crystal Palace and I took time off from running and then built up from nothing,” he recalls. “I worked really closely with James Moore – one of the physios with UKA – and he set up a strength and conditioning problem to clear up a small but annoying long-term hamstring niggle that I’d had. So to make sure got energy levels back, I took a lot of time off running and spent a lot of time in the gym.”
In recent days Baddeley has prepared for the Games with the GB squad in Monte Gordo and looking forward to stepping on to the track in the Olympic Stadium on Friday August 3 at 20:05 for the 1500m heats. “I think it’ll be incredible to run there,” he says. “I’ve run in Crystal Palace when you’re a British guy, but there will be seven or eight times as many people.”
Despite his great form early in the summer, though, he hopes a glitch in training after the UK Trials will not affect him too much. He suffered an injury niggle after qualifying for the GB team which resulted in him missing the London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace. He returned to race at a BMC meeting in Solihull on July 21 but finished only third in 3:41.50 in a race won by Niall Brooks – not the best confidence-boosting race he might have liked on the eve of the Games.
Hopefully he will have rediscovered his form in time for the Games, though, and he also reveals that he will step up to 5000m in the future, but he never had any intention whatsoever of doing it before the London Games. He explains: “I train like a 5km/1500m runner. I was pleased with 3km this year too. Ultimately I will step up to 5km but never any plans to move up for the Olympics.”
He continues: “The 5000m is tough. Mo is running low 12:50s and there’s no guarantee he’ll win the Olympics. Realistically this year I wasn’t going to run 12:50, but in the World Champs last year someone like Matt Centrowitz had a PB of 3:34 and won a medal. So if you can be in the right spot – which is easier said than done in the 1500m – then you’ve got a chance.”
He adds: “I certainly have no plan to retire and want to go on for a few years and will step up to 5km.”
The last comment is perhaps a slight surprise. It’s a well-known fact he has a first-class honours degree from Cambridge University in aerospace engineering so there is always the suspicion that running perhaps doesn’t stimulate his mind.
He even joked about this at the Aviva Trials by saying “every year he’s gone a little bit dafter due to running around in circles constantly”. The most likely post-athletics career, though, is in the design and production of running shoes. He has a long-term relationship with New Balance and the company has even produced a shoe with his name on it.
“I’d love to go back to a technical/engineering role,” he says. “Shoe design combines running, which I’m passionate about and lot of my degree was material science so it’s quite an obvious pairing.”
New Balance has also helped Baddeley and others get involved in an athletics reality TV series called The British Miler. Narrated by Richard Nerurkar and shown mainly on Sky Sports every week, the series has focused on Baddeley and others like Tom Lancashire and James Brewer in the run up to the Games.
The British Runner series has also played heavily on the history of the sport in the UK, so it would be hugely appropriate if 2012 could culminate in one of them making the Olympic podium. With bags of experience, a dangerous kick finish and home support behind him, Baddeley could be that man.