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JAIMIE BAULCH
a relay runner’s tale

My name is Jamie Baulch. My birthday is on 3 May 1973 and I live in Cardiff. I used to do track and field and I used to run for Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the 400 metres, and, of course, in the 4x400m relay. I’ve retired now but, when I was competing, I ran for about twelve years at the top end of world athletics, and I’ve got several medals in my cabinet to remind myself.

eggs and spoons

I was about ten or eleven years old when I started athletics. I started doing track and field at my school sports’ day. The main event which I was in was the obstacle race. You’d have to run ten metres with an egg and spoon, and then run over a wooden bench, then jump into this sack and go ten metres in the sack, then go underneath this crash mat and run to the finish. I ended up coming out of the side of the mat and my old man said, “Jamie, go back to the start”, so I had to run all the way back to the start, pick up the egg and spoon, go over the bench, jump into the sack, underneath the mat, and I ended up sprinting to the end and winning the race! So, I went twice as fast as every kid in the whole school and they were, like, “He’s fast!”. My headmaster was a runner and he said, “I think you should join a running club”. Newport Harriers was where I started off. I was training twice a week and after about a month, I ended up winning the Gwent County Championships over 100 metres. Then, a few years later, I joined Cardiff AC, a bigger club which competed against bigger teams. I used to do 100 and 200 metres to start off with, and then I moved up to the 4x400 metres and the 400 metre individual a bit, later in my career.

the fastest legs in the country


The 4x4 relay, it was a bit of a freak accident, actually. I was competing down in Cardiff, and I ended up running one of the fastest legs in the country that year and everyone was, like, “Phew, he’s really good at the 400 metres”. I ran the fastest relay sprint in Britain that year and it was in the days of Roger Black, Ewan Thomas, Mark Richardson, some really good athletes. There were about six or seven of us who were all world class.

It’s a very raw sport. You don’t need a swimming pool, you don’t need a bike, you don’t need equipment. It’s just you and the track, and that’s the one thing I love about it. There’s nothing like running faster than everybody else, is there? There’s nothing like beating the kid next to you, is there? I have done that on a world level. When I won the World Championships in 1999, I went into Asda a couple of weeks later and I was pushing my trolley and I remember going, “I’m faster than that bloke there, and that person, and that little child by there”, and then, I suddenly realised I was the fastest man on the planet. It’s quite good knowing you’re the fastest person over 400 metres.

400 metre running, they say, is the hardest event in track and field just because it’s a controlled sprint. You’re practically running flat out around the track for 400 metres. You’re running at high intensity. If you imagine a Ferrari car, well, we were like Ferraris.

nothing like beating the americans

Relay running and running as an individual are totally different things, because, in the relay, one, you’re running for Great Britain first and foremost; secondly, you’re running with team-mates who are your friends when you’re competing or off the track, but your enemies on the track. So, suddenly, when you come together as a foursome, you’ve all got to gel together and get on. What you don’t want to do is let anyone down. Relay running was my favourite because it was always us against America and Jamaica, the fastest teams, and there was nothing like beating the Americans. If you see some video footage of me when we came second in the World Championships, I actually ran past this American athlete. It was just so cool. In the Olympic Final in ’96, America were the fastest team and we made it to the final, quite a scary moment in history, because you’ve only got forty-four seconds to do it right. If you mess up in that time, on that day, in that minute, it’s gone; you can’t do it again. Iwan Thomas ran the first leg, we’re in lane five and the Americans are in lane four. Well, as I’m running around the bend, getting the baton off Iwan, the American runs past me and goes, “Oh yeah, baby!”. He’s talking as he’s running! So, I’ve got 300 metres to go. I’m going down the back straight and I thought I’ll have him now. It’s the Olympic final and he’s about that far ahead of me and I ran as fast as I could and, as I ran past him, I went, “Meep! Meep!”, like Road Runner, the cartoon!

I only had forty-four seconds, but, actually, when you are running extremely fast, that forty-four seconds seems like an hour. You’ve got all the time in the world to make your move, and you take it all in. Everything really slows off when you go fast.

all around the world

I’ve been to two Olympic Games, I’ve been to a couple of World Championships, a couple of European Championships, Commonwealth Games and World Cups. I’ve also played a couple of football matches, memorial games, and I’ve competed against some of the best footballers in the world. I was playing upfront with Zola the other month and I was, like, “What am I doing here? This guy is a legend”. I remember going to Party in the Park in London for the Prince’s Trust. I went on stage just before Christina Aguilera and just after Bon Jovi, mega stars, and with 120,000 people in front of me I did this Michael Jackson spin, a little dance on stage, and the crowd went wild. If I could be anything in life, a runner, a footballer, a tennis player, a pop star, whatever, I’d love to sing. I’d love to be a world-class singer, to go on stage like Robbie Williams who’s sung in front of 350,000 people in Knebworth and have people sing the song back.

I’ve been all around the world in track and field and 90% of the countries I went to were amazing. I didn’t say 100%, because some were terrible, but of those 90%, Australia was my favourite. I completed in the Sydney Olympics in 2000, had a bad Games, didn’t run very well, came fifth. But it’s such a sporty nation, it’s outdoors, it’s surfboards, it’s cool, it’s the best of Britain, in a way. I don’t know why they sent the convicts over there. I think they got that a bit wrong. I don’t know why we’re not all over there.

The 10% was Russia. Moscow was awful. I hated it. It was just when the first McDonalds opened there, which was really bizarre because – not that I eat much McDonalds by the way, let me get that one in –but that would cost somebody two weeks wages to have a McDonalds over there. You were either very rich or very poor at the time, and I just didn’t like it. The hotel was a little bit dodgy; on the fifth floor they had people with machine guns. At the time, I didn’t really like South Africa too much, either. Johannesburg was scary; you’re talking ten, twelve years ago. That was an eye-opener, the rich and the poor, and a little bit corrupt. A lovely place to look at but ... . I’ve been there since and it’s great, now. I’ve been to lots of countries – America, Spain, France, Italy, Germany – you name them I’ve been there, competed in most countries. I did live in Sydney in Australia for a couple of years on and off, training; I did live in America, in Atlanta in Georgia. A lot of my friends used to say to me, “You’re so lucky”. But the training was very difficult; I’d be physically sick every other day on the running track … so it’s not as much fun as it looks from the outside. When you watch it on TV, you’re only seeing the final bits, the magical moments of sport; what you don’t realise is that there’s a lot of hardship which goes into it. I’ve got two children. My oldest is fifteen, my little one is seven. My fifteen year old, I used to be away from him six months of the year. All I wanted to do was speak to him, laugh, play football with him, and I couldn’t because I was training. Even though it was a great end result, there’s some real hard things that are in between.

the medal and the moment

I was twenty-two / twenty-three years old when I went to the Olympics, quite young, really. In my first Olympics, I got that silver medal, a great experience, so magical I can’t really describe it. My medal was in my sock drawer for quite a long time. It was just dumped there, and people would ask, “Why is it in there? Why haven’t you got it on display?” Well, as an athlete, it’s not the medal you crave, it’s the actual moment. It was only recently when I watched the Beijing Olympics and I saw these people getting medals, everyone excited and crying, and I thought, “My God, I’ve got one of them!” I only realised how good it was twelve years on. Everyone around me was an Olympic medalist, so it just seemed a normal thing to be. The Linford Christies, the Colin Jacksons, we’ve all got medals in our cabinets, so I didn’t really realise how special it was.

I’ve won about fourteen or fifteen Commonwealth up to Olympic medals. Somebody told me recently that I’m one of the most decorated medalists in the country. I did the indoors, got five World indoor medals, Olympic medal, World outdoor medals, European and Commonwealth; I did the relay and the individuals. The best moment was winning the World Indoor Championships, and the most magical moment was when I won the World Championships. It was in Japan and I phoned my mum and dad: “Dad, dad, I’m the World Champion”, and he burst out crying. He was so proud of his son, he couldn’t contain it. He went, “That’s so good. Well done, son. You done us proud!” So that, to me, was my gold medal, to make my parents so proud of their son that you make your dad cry. Dad’s don’t cry, do they?

running off fear

The hardest competition – but maybe the best at the same time – was the World indoors which I won in ’99, because everyone went “He’s going to win”, so that’s difficult, you know. Can you imagine the whole world going, “Oh, you’re going to win!” “Am I? How do you know I am?” “Because you’re the best.” “Yeah, but I’ve got to be the best at that moment.

I could slip. I could fall over. I could have a headache. I could have a cold”.

That was a lot of pressure, very difficult. When you look at people like Dame Kelly Holmes and the pressure she was under to win the Olympics, and people like Paula Radcliffe, some people buckle under pressure and some people perform better. Linford Christie was one who would perform well under pressure. I asked him one day, I said, “How do you do it?” He said, “I run off fear”. The fear of losing would make him win.

waiting for gold

Thirteen years on, I got told that we’d been upgraded to the gold medal in the 4x4 from the Athens World Championships. One of the Americans who won that day admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs. It only came out a couple of years ago. Well, obviously, the Great Britain team were going to get upgraded to the gold medal, the Jamaicans to the silver, and so on. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s come the way it has, though. Thirteen years ago, if we’d have gotten the gold medal then, it would have been so different, because we are still the fastest team ever in this country, still the fastest team ever in the Commonwealth and Europe. But, at the same time, I turn it on its head and think that I’m really lucky that the truth is out. I’ve got to be thankful that my name is in the record books as a double world champion, for the world indoors and now outdoors, too.

The Americans didn’t give the medals back. I’ve been given a medal that isn’t the original; it doesn’t even look like the original which is even more disappointing. It would have been nice to have had at least a replica gold medal of the original one. But, in sports, things happen; you are going to get people who cheat. Big money’s at stake. For me, personally, I think you’ve got to have pride when you run. I did it because I loved running. I didn’t do it because I wanted to earn a lot of money or whatever. I did it because I wanted to be the best at what I did, honestly and naturally, you know. I’ve got children. I love my parents and my family, so, for me, personally, I don’t get it.

not six foot tall

I was very unusual. I must be one of, if not the shortest 400 metre runner out there. I’m five foot eight. 400 metre runners are usually six foot plus and the reason for that is the 400 is a controlled sprint. It’s quite a rangy event. You don’t run flat out from gun to tape because you just can’t do it … but that’s my uniqueness. In Jamaica, they used to call me ‘Suicide’. They’d say, “Don’t follow him. He’ll kill you, because if you run as fast as he does for the first 200 you’re going to die when you come up the home straight”. I used to just run flat out all the way round. That’s why I was so good in the relays. We could be in third position or even fourth position, and I would make up so much yardage. For example, in the 1997 World Championships, when I got the relay baton, we were in third place, twenty-five metres down on the Americans and four metres down on the Jamaicans, but, by the time I got to two-hundred to go, we were four metres up. I’d taken thirty metres. Yes, I didn’t give the baton in first place – the American went past me – but I had made up a twenty-five metre gap to get us into contention. I just had real quick acceleration. I could go from nought to whatever like that.

the welsh shirt

I think most people know I was born in England, but I was three months old when I moved to Wales, so I’m Welsh. I don’t consider myself to be English. I’ll never be English. When you wear the Welsh vest for the Commonwealth Games, it’s so much greater than wearing the British vest. When you put that on, you’re, like, “I’m going to kick butt!”. Obviously, when I competed at the Olympics and the World Championships for Great Britain, that was brilliant because it’s bigger again, you know. I mean, you can’t compete for Wales at the Olympics, you can’t at the Worlds. But when you come home from a Commonwealth Games after getting a medal, people would be, like, “Go on, son, get in there”. It was a little bit more raw. I loved it!

Hairstyles

I used to have the wackiest hairstyles; it was my personality coming out. They used to call me ‘The Flying Pineapple’ in Australia, because I used to have short hair on the sides, dreadlocks, braids, on top, which I used to tie up like a pineapple. The first time, I didn’t tell my mother that I was getting my hair done and, you know, to come home with some wacky hairstyle, I thought I was going to get in trouble. I walked into the living room thinking my mum was going to kill me, and she went, “Ooh, I really like that!” So, that was it, she’d opened the door and I just did everything. I had blue hair, I had pink hair, red hair, purple hair, blond dreadlocks, long hair. Am I embarrassed by some of them styles? Yeah, I am actually when I look back through some of the pictures. “Oh, my God! Was that me?” But the one thing which it did – which I didn’t do purposely – was it got my name and my face recognisable, and it put me into places where other athletes weren’t going. I had my own TV show and I was getting sponsored by designer clothing labels and things like that, so I was quite lucky. But it’s short now and boring, although I’m thirty-seven years old and I haven’t gone grey yet.

We’ve got one or two people who are charismatic out there, but track and field has gone really boring, now. I think Usain Bolt is one character which we really need. The guy is phenomenal, a legend already. He reminds me of some of the things I used to do. I think sport has got a little bit more serious, a little bit more organised, and, unfortunately, young athletes competing now haven’t got the same role models I had, people like Colin Jackson, Linford Christie, Daley Thompson. The characters have gone.

Retiring

I woke up one day and I said, “I don’t enjoy it, anymore! Do I really want to live in America and not see my children growing up?”, and I phoned my coach, and a day later I flew home and I didn’t run again. It was as simple as that.

Sport is something you’ve got to enjoy; you can’t do sport at that level if you don’t. I feel very lucky that I can distinguish the difference between me as a person and me as a sportsman. People like Paul Gascoigne struggle when they retire because they still want to be that person which they were twenty years ago, whereas I’m, like, “Do I really want to run anymore? No. It hurt. It was hard work”. People, even though I retired five years ago, they still come up and say, “Oh, you’re the runner”, and I say, “Running is something I do, not what I am”. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job. It was amazing winning medals and running for your country, running in the Commonwealth Games and putting on the Welsh vest, but it was a job at the end of the day which, obviously, I don’t do anymore. I enjoy doing other things, now.

The one thing about me, you can’t put me in a box.

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