Leon Baptiste announced his talents to the wider athletics world here tonight as he won the 200m title in 20.45sec – and fine style.
As he stood just past the finish line with both arms aloft, this 25-year-old from Loughborough, who had set a personal best of 20.43 in his semi-final, could reflect upon a journey which has not been straightforward.
Having given up his first sporting passion, football, after injuring a knee so badly that he cannot now kick a ball, Baptiste, who is coached by Michael Kmel at Enfield and Haringey, concentrated his attention on running to marvellous effect, taking 100m gold in the 2003 European junior championships.
But like so many outstanding juniors, he has found that careers don’t necessarily go in a straight line once the senior ranks are reached, and although he registered a startling 200m victory over the US Olympic silver medallist Shawn Crawford in January, Baptiste was disappointed not to have been selected for this summer’s European Championships.
Tonight, however, his season finished on a high in a race where Jamaica’s Lansford Spence took silver in a personal best of 20.49, and Wales’s Christian Malcolm – a silver medallist in this event 12 years ago – earned bronze with 20.52.
“It’s been a long journey a lot of downs and some ups,” Baptiste said. “Not running at the Europeans was the lowest point, this was definitely the highest.
“I just can’t believe it, to get a PB in the semi just felt so easy and comfortable, but it is the medal that counts. I’m a big admirer of Christian Malcolm’s work and running technique, he probably doesn’t know it but I watch tapes of his running.”
Marlon Devonish, third fastest into the final, finished fifth in 20.75.
“I was not ready at the start and lost focus,” said the former Olympic sprint gold medallist. “It’s not an excuse, it just happens. I didn’t run the race I wanted to and I wasn’t prepared for fifth.
“I came in very confident and feeling in great shape. It is great for Leon though.”
Carl Myerscough added to the medal tally with a bronze in the men’s discus, throwing 60.64m in an event won by Australia’s Ben Harradine with 65.45.
“That was fabulous,” said Myerscough. “I can’t believe I’ve finally done it and all the hard work has paid off. It was really similar to the shot in that it was so close between me and the Cypriot guy in fourth, but this time round it came off for me.”
Emeka Udechuku was fifth with 59.59 and Chris Scott seventh with 57.05.
Rick Yates was fifth in a 400m hurdles final won by Wales’s European champion Dai Greene in 48.52sec. Yates clocked 49.84, with Dave Hughes eighth in 50.48.
“If you’d have said I would have been fifth before the champs then I would have been happy and it’s been a great experience,” said Yates.
“To race with Dai is just amazing, he’s killing it at the moment, he’s a different class. It’s such an inspiration to the rest of us. He was injured a couple of years ago and now look at him, one of the best in the world.”
The women’s high jump saw Vicky Hubbard take fourth place with 1.83m, with teammates Stephanie Pywell and Kay Humberstone in joint sixth with 1.78. Gold went to Canada’s Nicole Forester, who cleared 1.91.
“I hate fourth place,” said Hubbard. “That’s where I came in the European juniors and it’s the worst possible position.
“That said, after a horrible 2010 I guess I can be pleased with it. I was ill from May to June, came back and qualified for this and then tore a quad muscle, so to be competing is a relief.”
In a men’s 800m final won in 1:46.60 by Boaz Lalang, who led a Kenyan clean sweep, Darren St Clair came sixth in 1:52.15.
Meghan Beasley came seventh in the women’s 400m hurdles final in 58.36.
Emma Jackson and Hannah England qualified in style for tomorrow night’s 800m final, with Jackson winning her semi in 2:01.63 and England following home Kenya’s Winny Chebet in 2:02.63.
“I wanted to run controlled, run engaged and stay in contention, which I managed,” said England. “Bring on the final.”
In the women’s 200m final, Laura Turner pulled out of her semi-final with a slight injury concern, but Joice Maduaka and Abi Oyepitan progressed to the final which didn’t happen as scheduled tonight because of a protest from a Cypriot runner who had been disqualified. The race will now be run in tomorrow’s evening session.