Trinidad’s Baptiste takes aim at awesome Jamaican women
When the gun goes off today at the London 2012 Olympics for the start of the women's 100m heats, Trinidad & Tobago's Kelly-Ann Baptiste should be among athletes in the starting blocks.
But getting past the first few rounds of the sprints should be the easy part for the 26-year-old, who now lives and trains in Clermont, Florida. It's the final, a day later, that could prove most daunting in her quest to become the first female medallist at the Olympic Games for her Caribbean island nation.
Despite two previous appearances at the Games, Baptiste knows it will still be tough to beat the star line-up of competitors including Jamaica's defending Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell Brown, America's Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix. What's different this time is knowing she can deliver on the big stage, having won bronze at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, last summer.
With a season's best of 10.86, Baptiste is only a few seconds slower than the other high-profile athletes, giving her “a very fair chance of winning or getting a medal”.
When we caught up with her in the lobby of a Marriott Courtyard in Trinidad's capital, Port of Spain, before heading to London, Baptiste said: “It comes down to execution and focus and whoever is able to mentally stay focused and execute their own race plan on that day is gonna win, and I think I'm one of those people.”
Baptiste credits her state of mental and physical readiness to her last four years of training at The National Training Center (NTC) in Clermont, which is less distracting than the high-energy life in Trinidad & Tobago, known for its worldfamous Carnival.
“I like that as a person, because I'm very quiet, reserved, I don't do much, and I don't like a lot of noise,” she said. “If I need to do something on a weekend, I drive 20 minutes out into Orlando and I do stuff, but in Clermont it's just the track. “
At least 12 athletes who made NTC their training grounds are in London for the Games, including American track star Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin and Jamaica's Campbell-Brown, who Baptiste is likely to race in the 100m dash. For her, sharing training facilities with a rival does more to motivate rather than intimidate. She says Campbell-Brown is “a fierce competitor”, and seeing her on the same track almost every day “is a constant reminder of what I have to face”.
But facing the Jamaicans and Americans successfully means Baptiste will have to overcome her biggest hurdle to winning a medal — her finish. Her technique tends to come apart over the course of the final 20 metres, and she says she's working to keep her hips up instead of allowing them to drop, which can happen if she starts getting tired.
Whether she can fix this in time for the big day will come down to a combination of intense practice over the past few weeks, listening to her coach and drawing on her inner strength. Baptiste says that inner strength comes from her deep spiritual beliefs and reliance on a higher power.
Baptiste, who attends church once or twice a month or streams sermons online when she's travelling, uses this spiritual strength to dismiss doubters about her chances at medalling in London. "It doesn't matter what people think. The day when you start putting what other people think of you in your mind and limit yourself, then you will not get anywhere.”
“Through Him, I can do all things... anyone can go out there and achieve a gold medal," she said.