In the sportlight: Andy Baddeley on engineering his way to an Olympic medal

Posted in sport on July 3, 2012

Since graduating from Cambridge with a double first in Engineering, Andy Baddeley has represented Great Britain in major championships across the globe for nearly a decade. An Olympic finalist in Beijing in 2008, and a World Championship finalist in Osaka in 2007, Andy was the first male British 1500m runner to make a World Final in 10 years.

Andy’s selection for the GB team for London 2012 has now been confirmed, and with the Games fast approaching we caught up with him to find out how he became an elite athlete (and not an engineer!) and how his Olympic preparations were going…

Sprint finish on the back straight

So, you got a double 1st in Engineering from Cambridge but decided to become a full time athlete. How come?

At the time it was a difficult decision – I had been offered a PhD and wasn’t at a level with athletics where I would qualify for the national team – but I knew I could always come back to academia, whereas you only get a pretty small window of opportunity with professional sport. I moved down to London, giving myself a year to see how it went. After a year I missed the World Championship team by 0.2s, and bagged a silver medal in the World University Games.

Now I find it impossible to imagine doing anything else – my ‘office’ has been all over the world, with this year alone seeing me training in Kenya, Florida and California chasing the sunshine! Admittedly I’m getting further and further from an academic career, and spending most of my waking time turning left isn’t helping…

How did you get into running?

When I was 10, a friend of mine was badgered into doing an after school activity by his mum, and chose cross-country. He asked me to come along for moral support – he lasted a few weeks but I’m still going!

Sport you could never get the hang of…

Rugby! I was at a hockey and rugby school, both of which I was rubbish at! For some reason they setted our games classes according to two criteria – the first XV rugby team, and who was good at the bleep test! Which meant that I was up against some pretty big guys (I was one of the shortest and skinniest – I didn’t really grow until year 11!)

Sports that you miss now you are an elite athlete?

Definitely tennis. I’m a huge Wimbledon fan, and finally managed to go for the first time this year – centre court on day 3, it was incredible! I’d love to be able to go an have a knock, but just can’t take the risk in terms of injuries. One of my favourite sporting memories of all time is the whole tournament in 2001 when Ivanisevic won.

Which sport do you want to try but haven’t got round to?

Skiing. I’d love to do it, but it has to be the highest risk sport for breaking a leg! I’m looking forward to being normal in a few years and learning to do it. I’d also love to try a triathlon, I can swim a bit, but have never cycled properly so it would be interesting to try one. I think I assume I’d be really good, whereas in reality I’d be so tired and so far behind by the run that it would hopeless!

Andy won’t be trying this any time soon..

What would you say to someone wanting to be more active but not sure where to start?

The key motivator for me in getting out when it’s raining or cold is the commitment to meet someone else. I’m lucky in that I have a group of incredible training partners, but I would say just a simple agreement to do something with a friend is enough to get you out of the door and on the way to discovering something incredibly rewarding. You can do anything you set your mind to, and sharing a sense of achievement with a friend will bring you closer together.

Best bit of coaching advice received?

It’s a cliché but “enjoy it”. Elite sport involves a huge amount of sacrifice, so if it’s not fun most of the time, what’s the point? I try to treat my training and preparations professionally, but enjoy banter with my group who make sure I can’t take myself too seriously! (In fact, the girls in our group spend most of their time tuning us out!)

Any pre-race superstitions or rituals?

One of my training partners tells me I have OCD, as I like to lay out all my race kit neatly (ok, in order and in piles), a bit like Rafa with his drinks bottles! I also like to take some time to have a read in order to relax my mind before I really gear up for the race.

Andy celebrating another win

Sporting Hero?

I’m writing this watching Roger Federer as he heads into a fifth set. Boris Becker is commentating, and I’d be hard pressed to pick between the two of them. I grew up watching Boris, and every time I went to the local grass courts to play, I’d be diving around trying to emulate his Wimbledon heroics. But since I’ve stopped playing tennis, I’ve loved watching Federer, as he never seems to panic and is so supremely skilful that it’s hard to see anyone else as the greatest ever.

What’s the plan between now and the games?

Training and a few races. Nothing spectacular – my coach and I drew up a plan, so we know what we want to do, and it’s a case of getting it done in order to make sure I peak at the right time.  One key focus is to try and keep things simple, and not get too excited with all the Olympic furore.

And finally… We currently cover golf, tennis and personal training, Which sport do you think we should do next and why?

This one ties in with your question about people starting out in sport – I’d say running (obviously!) as there are a huge number of social running groups all over the country. There are also the Parkrun series which are fantastic, free and have a huge attendance. There must be a lot of like minded people who want to get together and chart their progress together.

Thanks a lot to Andy for taking the time out of his very hectic pre-London schedule to chat with us, and most importantly good luck with the Games! Look out for Andy competing in 1500 metres which starts exactly a month today. To keep up with Andy’s progress and send him lots of support before the games, head over to his twitter page here.