EIGHTEEN months ago, Richard Kilty was ready to draw a line under his athletics career.
Controversially omitted from the Great Britain squad for the 2012 Olympic Games despite running an ‘A’ standard time in the 200m, and nursing a torn left hamstring that made it difficult to even walk, the Stockton sprinter was thoroughly disillusioned with life on the track.
For five long months, he kept his running spikes in his bag and barely even strayed outdoors. If the London Olympics were a high point for those who competed in them, for Kilty they represented a demoralising low.
Gradually, however, he vowed to run again. Denied any external funding, and back in his native North-East after giving up his previous training base in London, the 24-year-old began to rebuild his career.
It was not an easy task. Unable to pay for a full-time coach, he worked with his dad, running at Clairville Stadium, lifting weights in a local Stockton gym and even sprinting along the banks of the Tees Barrage when he couldn’t secure track time.
As his times improved, so he attracted the attention of the UK Athletics authorities once more. In October, his funding was restored, and yesterday, after an impressive start to the indoor season, he was named in the British squad for next month’s World Indoor Championships in Poland. Quite a turnaround from the dark days of 2012.
“There were times when I really thought I’d had enough,” said Kilty, who is a former World Junior Championship semi-finalist in the 100m. “It was a massive disappointment to miss out on the Olympics. I’d devoted seven years of my life to that, achieved all the qualifying standards, but one little injury meant it was all taken away from me.
“It took until the following January to get my head clear. I needed that time to go away, shut myself off and think about what I really wanted with my life. Did I want to put myself through all that again by continuing running?
“I was confused about what I wanted to do. For a while, I couldn’t see myself going back at all. But gradually, I started to realise that I hadn’t missed out on the Olympics because I wasn’t good enough.
“My times would have been good enough to make the Olympic final, it was just that the injury hadn’t made that possible. Once I got my head around that, giving up wasn’t really an option.”
Yet even with his mindset clear, the hard task of rebuilding his career had only just begun. With no funding and no job, he could barely even afford the petrol required to drive to a local track, let alone the money required to compete against rivals with the full weight of lottery funding and governing-body support behind them.
“I was living at home, and I didn’t really have a penny,” said Kilty. “I barely had a pound in my pocket, and it was a challenge just to afford to live and eat.
“I took myself to Clairville and went up to Gateshead Stadium a couple of times, but even then it was just me running against the clock. There was no formal coach or training group to measure myself against.
“I’d missed most of the winter training because of the time I took away from the sport, so the whole of last season felt like I was really playing catch up.”
Nevertheless, Kilty’s latent talent remained, and after winning his 200m heat in the British Championships, he finished second in the final at Birmingham in a time of 20.50sec.
That earned him a place in Britain’s 4x100m squad at the World Championships, and while he was unable to force himself into the starting line-up, the trip to Moscow convinced him that his future was bright.
“Given the way all the preparations had gone, I guess I was a bit surprised at just how well I ran last season,” he said. “I suppose it proved the ability I’ve got because I’d barely done any training at all in the build up.
“When I was at the World Championships, I was speaking to some of the coaches from the American team, and they couldn’t believe the conditions I was training in. I don’t think they even knew where the North-East of England was, and when I was talking about the training I was doing at Gateshead, they just shook their heads and laughed.
“They said, ‘If you were training properly, just imagine the times you could be running’. Hopefully, I won’t have to imagine any more.”
Restored to the funding programme in October, Kilty spent part of the winter at a British sprinting training camp in South Africa.
He posted a time of 6.53sec – the fourth-fastest in the world this year – to claim a joint 60m bronze medal with Dwain Chambers at the British Indoor Championships in Sheffield, a performance that guaranteed his participation in the World Championships once James Dasaolu was forced to withdraw through injury.
“The target for the worlds is to make the 60m final,” he said. “And then if you do that, anything is possible. There’ll be a strong field with the top two Americans and the top two Jamaicans as well as Dwain, but my performances this season mean I’ve got nothing to be afraid of.”
Once the World Indoors are out of the way, attention will switch to the outdoor season, and Kilty is targeting a landmark achievement before the end of the year.
“I want to run under ten seconds for the 100m,” he said. “That’s what every sprinter dreams of and, if I do it, I’ll be just the second white man in history to break that barrier.
“That’s a massive motivation for me. I want to compete in the World Relay Championships in the Bahamas, and I want to make the squad for the Commonwealths and Europeans. Most of all though, I want to have a sub-ten-second run to my name.”