World relay medallist is poised to take off his headband for the last time as he calls time on his career
Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake’s next stepJanuary 20, 2018
The British sprinter may have loved every second of becoming a world champion but he doesn’t want to dwell on the past
The invitations to the glitzy end-of-year award shows were appreciated, the chance to relive a golden moment thoroughly enjoyed, but Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake wants to move on now. It’s time to look at what’s next.
He will forever cherish the memory of becoming a world champion as part of Britain’s 4x100m team at London 2017, of course. Now 2018 is here, however, there is other business to attend to.
“As much as what happened in the summer was nice, I want to forget about it now,” says Mitchell-Blake, who is getting used to life as a full-time athlete following his graduation from Louisiana State University. “It’s a new sheet, time to get ready for the new season.
“Every day is a day to get better, I don’t want to just dwell on an accomplishment. I want to achieve more, I don’t want it to be the defining moment of my career.
“I understand we made history and I’m not belittling what we did but I just want to move on. I don’t want to ride a high horse, forget my work ethic or maybe feel like I’ve made it because I’m nowhere near where I want to be yet.
“Every day in training I’m like ‘this is my job now. It’s not university, this is my life’. I probably feel more pressure now on myself to get better than I did before because I just want to achieve more. I’m hungry for it.
“It’s what motivates me and it’s internally created – I put it on myself.”
“I don’t want to just dwell on an accomplishment. I want to achieve more”
Some of Mitchell-Blake’s recent training took place in London, split between the facilities at Mile End and Lee Valley as he enjoyed a return to the UK and a festive season with family.
His full-time base remains in America, however, where he continues to work with coach Dennis Shaver, the man who guided him through a hectic sprinting education in the collegiate system.
Mitchell-Blake raced over 55 times last season and although his schedule won’t hit that scale again now that university responsibilities are no longer an issue, his body is responding just as he’d like following a well-earned break at the end of last season.
“I feel good,” he says. “I had about six, seven weeks off and then I started feeling my biceps and realised I was getting kind of skinny and thought to myself ‘you know what? It’s about time (to get back to work). I don’t put on weight, I lose weight – I’m naturally a skinny person and a couple of people were making comments like ‘you’re looking slim’ and I thought ‘now I’ve got to get back in the gym’. I’m well rested, training is going well.
“I’m going to be working my body like it’s never been worked before.”
Mitchell-Blake insists Louisiana is the best place for him to get that work done. There have been some acknowledgements of his world-beating achievements on the other side of the Atlantic, such as when he was presented to the crowd during a college football game, but largely it’s a place where distractions and attention are in short supply.
“It’s a good place for me to get my head down, train and stay focused,” says the 23-year-old. “It was pretty cool that my university acknowledged me, at the end of the first quarter of a football game. Every game is packed and the capacity is probably around 110,000 people. They read out a couple of my accomplishments and let me walk out in front of the home fans so that was definitely an unbelievable night.”
The attention Mitchell-Blake has to deal with is not normally on that scale, however. “They don’t really acknowledge athletics over there, though one person recognised me,” he laughs. “I was at a battle of the bands event and I was just at the kiosk getting some nachos when this guy came up to me and said ‘hey, great job on the relay, man!’.
“I just said ‘thanks’, I wasn’t expecting that one – I thought he was going to offer me some ketchup or mustard or something!”
There may be more encounters with well-wishers to deal with in future if his on-track performances continue to improve, however. He is only the second British man to have run under 10 seconds for 100m (9.99) and 20 seconds for 200m (19.95), while he came incredibly close to a world championships 200m bronze medal during the summer.
With the margins between success and failure ever narrowing as his standards are raised, the man from Newham knows he will now have to delve into minute detail if he wants to keep on getting better.
“We’re conscious now of what I need to get better at whereas before it was just about getting better each season,” says Mitchell-Blake. “Now, when you reach a certain level, the margins are finer and we’ve acknowledged certain key points.
“My start has always been a point of emphasis, yes, but we’re looking at some other stuff as well and we want to make a conscious effort to welcome that later in the season – though I can’t reveal my secrets! There are one or two things we’ve got on the drawing board and some things that I can work on myself away from the track, now that I’m no longer at university, so I’m just trying to get better overall.”
The first real target to peak for is April’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where Mitchell-Blake will compete for England in the 200m and 4x100m. He will race over 60m at the Müller Indoor Grand Prix in Glasgow at the end of February, too, but it remains to be seen if the World Indoors in March will also feature on his schedule.
“I have to prep myself for the Commonwealth Games,” he says. “I want to get faster, see where I’m at and indoors is always a good marker. I’m interested to see how fast I can go over 60m.
“But, indoors, we’re just going to see how it goes. There’s no pressure on it.”
“I want to be the best there is and I’m not shy in saying that … I’m trying to create my own legacy. I feel that starts this year”
The last time the Commonwealth Games were held in Australia – in Melbourne back in 2006 – Mitchell-Blake was an avid spectator.
“I remember watching Asafa Powell win the 100m on TV in the school cafeteria,” he says. 12 years on from that moment, the fan will be presented with the chance to put himself in the spotlight.
“That’s the aim,” he says. “I feel like it’s there to be done, with no longer having the demands of the collegiate schedule. As far as my racing schedule is concerned that will be different, too, because I won’t be as raced so the intensity of my training will have to go up – there will be different markers.
“The aim is definitely to acquire individual success and to continue with the team success because obviously, with us all being young, we’ll have that relay team for a good while.
“If we start to achieve things individually, and start to raise the bar even higher, then hopefully team success will be a formality and not a surprise. Major success will be an expectation.”
And what of his own expectations?
“I want to be the best there is and I’m not shy in saying that,” he adds. “One thing I’ve realised is that to dominate something on an international scale is incredibly hard and we lived in the era where we witnessed Usain Bolt. No one’s ever been quite like that. To do something like that would be incredible but I’m trying to create my own legacy. I feel that starts this year.
“In terms of international recognition, it does go Commonwealth Games, Europeans, World Championships, then Olympics. So entering my first year as a pro where we have the Commonwealth Games and European Championships … I feel like you’re judged by your hardwear. Obviously I’d love to get gold but once you get medals and you get used to winning them on a national scale you can then escalate to even bigger things.
“I’m looking to do well in the 100m as well. People just label me as a 200 guy but the 100 is also an event I take very seriously.”