CRAIG Pickering hopes to look back on the London Olympics having done himself proud.
The 100m sprinter, who cut his teeth with Marshall Milton Keynes Athletics Club, is hoping to qualify for his second Games, and insists he is feeling fitter than ever.
But the 25-year-old isn’t getting ahead of himself, knowing that he faces very tough competition just to make the British squad – be it for the individual 100m event or the 4x100 relay team.
“I hope I do myself justice. I’m training well, I’m feeling good, and I’m on course to be there,” he said.
Pickering will need to run the A qualification standard of 10.18s this year to compete in the red, white and blue in the individual 100m, and has until the UK Trials in early summer to do that, with four other British sprinters also competing for three places.
Regardless of whether or not he qualifies, or has to make do with a spot in the relay team, Pickering’s rise to the top of British sprinting has been a remarkable ride – full of highs and lows.
Becoming a professional athlete was not something he thought about until he was at secondary school when the records began tumbling, and even then he didn’t take the idea too seriously.
He said: “I realised I was quick because I was beating everyone. My teachers spoke to me and my parents, and told me I should join a club.
“I went to Milton Keynes and was beating everyone there too. It was then that I realised I could be really good at this.”
Pickering burst onto the big time when he landed the bronze medal at the 2003 Youth World Championships, where a certain Jamaican sprinter called Usain Bolt picked up gold in the 200m.
However, it wasn’t until he beat Darren Campbell in a Bedford meet in 2005 that people started to sit up and take notice of Pickering, earmarking him for great things not only ahead of the London Games, but for Beijing in 2008.
Gaining momentum on the indoor scene, he landed a silver medal at the European Indoor Championships in 2007 before being named as part of the relay team to race at the World Championships in Osaka where he picked up bronze.
And he topped off a defining year with a personal best of 10.14s, and was a shoe-in for the Olympic Games the following year.
“I didn’t really give it much thought,” he admitted. “Each year we just prepared for a major tournament, it just happened that 2008’s major was the Olympics.
“Going into the stadium itself, I was so focused that I didn’t really think about the event. It was only hanging around the village that it sank in.
“I was there with Ronaldinho and Messi who were there playing in the football tournament. That’s when it sank in and I realised just how big the Olympics is.”
But while there was great excitement off the track, events on it would shape Pickering’s future. With the American’s disqualified in heat one of the relay, Great Britain looked certain to get a medal. But running the final leg, Pickering set off too early and received the baton from Marlon Devonish outside the zone, disqualifying the team. Pickering immediately took the brunt of the blame, saying he let his team mates, and the country, down.
“I had to come out and say that. It was hugely disappointing, but I didn’t realise the implications of it immediately because we genuinely had a great chance of taking an Olympic medal home with us,” he said.
“I felt like I had let everyone down. But by saying that, it made it easier for me to move on.”
Putting the disappointment behind him, Pickering had a good 2009 season, which saw him run a new wind-assisted PB time of 10.08 in the Czech Republic. However, 2010 was a difficult year for the sprinter who battled with injury and patchy form before last season saw him getting back to his very best, improving his fitness and confidence, but once again missing out on a relay medal at the World Championships in Daegu.
His training regime between now and the early summer is focused entirely on making the A qualification standard for London. He isn’t running competitively until May, but knows that everything he does between now and then could affect his performance.
“I think I’m back to where I should be now. I’ve been a professional athlete long enough to know how important the right preparation is,” he said.
“While my friends might want to go out for a drink, I know I can’t do that. It doesn’t even bother me because I’ve done it for so long, this is just how we live our lives.
“Everything now is geared up for the Olympics, just as it would be for any other major tournament. We aren’t approaching it like it’s the biggest athletics event, we’re just going at it like it’s any other race.
“I want to show everyone what I can do and do myself justice – and I think I will if everything goes the right way.
“As athletes we can’t afford to let the pressure get on top of us, but it should be a great show.”