Mark Lewis-Francis, aka “the Darlaston Dart”, now 31, has been competing for BIrchfield since he was 12 years old. It continues to be an amazing roller-coaster of a ride. In 2012, after two quad injuries, he failed to gain an individual 100m place in the Olympic team and was reported in The Daily Mail as saying ‘ I think it’s the end of the road, I’ll have to sit down and see where I can go.’ But he was named for the Olympic 4X100m squad and, in May 2013, after the BT Great City Games, he told Eightlane “I’m looking to go another 4 years until the London World Championships…to enjoy it and see what happens.” In July 2013 he ran 10.19 for 100m, in front of his home crowd at the British Championships.
His athletics career has been full of momentous decisions; as a hugely talented junior, who still holds British age group records at 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, he could have gone to the Olympic Games in Sydney, but opted to concentrate on the World Junior Championships in Santiago, winning gold in the 100m and 4x100m. He was beginning to fulfil an ambition hatched as he watched the 1996 Olympics on TV: ‘I thought “Yeah I want to be part of that I want to have a taste of that”, because it just looked amazing’
One of the dips in the roller-coaster ride came in 2001. Mark had been selected for the World Championships, having won the World Indoors and the European Cup, but a faulty wind-reading at the latter meant that his apparent time of 9.98 seconds count not be ratified as a world junior record. To have dipped under 10 seconds as a junior would have been a jewel in the crown of his junior career. By 2004 he was at a glorious high-point after anchoring Great Britain’s sprint relay team to a truly memorable Gold medal in Athens, holding off Maurice Greene of the USA on the line. He was awarded the MBE in the 2005 New Year Honours list
Another trough with injuries was to follow, but he was back up again by 2010, winning silver at both the European Championships and at the Commonwealth Games, where he again anchored the 4×100 squad to relay Gold. Interviewed for The Daily Mirror in 2012, Mark explained how that 2004 relay victory had provided him with a touchstone ever since: “After winning that medal that I always dreamed of, it was one of the greatest feelings I have ever had in athletics…We were the underdogs and no one expected us to achieve what we did…We went out there and did it and there is a little message in there – if you keep digging in, you will get the outcome that you want.”
Speaking in an AW interview in 2010 he recollected: ‘the 1996 Olympics was the first time I sat down and watched an Olympic Games and I thought “Yeah I want to be part of that, I want to have a taste of that” because it just looked amazing”