Ronnie Baker: Can He Regain The 2018 Magic?

One of the world’s hottest sprinters two years ago, Ronnie Baker numbered London among his 4 Diamond League wins. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

The second in a series of profiles we’ll be posting over the next few days as part of our Olympic Trials Men’s 100 Preview.

IN THE FIRST YEAR of the post-Bolt era Ronnie Baker impressed: he won the ’18 Millrose 60 in a meet record 6.48, captured the 60 bronze at the World Indoor and won 4 Diamond League 100 titles, including a successful defense of his Pre crown, defeating reigning world champ Christian Coleman, who had set the indoor 60 WR just months before. By season’s end, the former TCU sprint star had posted the year’s second-fastest clocking (9.87) and earned the No. 2 Ranking heading into ’19’s World Championships campaign.

But in a confounding development, he was virtually MIA last year, competing only in the outdoor Nationals, placing a moribund 5th (10.20) in Des Moines. “I was supposed to come to the Millrose meet and try to open up my season,” he says. “But 2 weeks before, I strained my hamstring so I took 5 weeks off. And then I had another separate injury when I strained my adductor. I was dealing with that all year, trying to get healthy. Really, it was just hard. My year was designed to peak at the national qualifiers for Worlds. After that, I took the rest of the season off. I was like, ‘Hey, Worlds is great, but the Olympics are a lot better. I’m going to wait until next year.’ And hopefully I’m going to pick up where I left off in 2018.” He saw specialists for his hamstring and adductor problems but says, “Really in the end, it really was the rest that got me back together.”

At this year’s Millrose he performed like Baker ’18. Some 40m in, trailing then world-leader Demek Kemp, Baker closed with a vengeance to grab the win and hand Kemp his first loss of the indoor season. “I think this race is a good starting point. I definitely felt like myself,” he declared. “I just heard my coach in the background say, ’Hey, you don’t need to do anything special. Just run through the line and you’ll be fine.’ So that’s exactly what I did and I came out with the win. So I’m happy with that.”

Baker had modest reservations about his Millrose time, 6.56, which he bettered four times subsequently, including a pair of 6.44 clockings, to sew up the season’s WIT event title. “Usually I would open up a little faster. I’m a little bit disappointed with the time. I could have executed a little better. I think that this is good that I’ve opened up a little slower because it’s gradually going to pick up until I’m ready for the Trials. I’ll hopefully be 100% and at my peak then. I don’t need to be peaking here.”

Baker knows work remains to be done: “For me, I think I’m really good toward the back end of the race. I think that the first 30 can be cleaned up a little bit. I think a lot of this is my reaction time. It’s not that I’m having bad starts. It’s that I’m not reacting to the gun very well. It’s about cleaning that up and being more aware and alert. That will probably be my only takeaway.” At 26, Baker—guided by his mentor since his TCU days, Darryl Anderson—feels his stirring rush to the finish line augurs well for him in the longer outdoor sprint. “Yes, definitely, 100%,” he adds with a laugh. “I know if I can be going at that speed closing to a 60, I’ll be well on my way to 100.”

With the ballyhoo already building in anticipation of the OT battle ahead, Baker shows respect for his top competitors while retaining confidence in his own abilities: “I know I’m in the conversation, I’m staying calm, and I’m realizing that God has blessed me with an amazing talent. The fact that I’m being talked about with [Coleman & Noah Lyles] means we’re kind of the top three guys. Knowing that going in, I don’t need to do anything special to make the team. I’ve just got to be myself. If I do that, I know I’ll be on my way to the Olympics this year.”

Asked what personal accomplishments he envisions are necessary to make this year a success Baker’s prompt reply is clear and powerful: “Winning a gold medal.”

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