Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake is set to have an eventful racing start to 2019 at the Spar British Athletics Indoor Championships, regardless of what happens in the 60m in Birmingham.
The world 4x100m relay gold medallist will toe the line for the first time this year in an event full of intrigue – and not just because there are places on the British team for the European Indoor Championships up for grabs.
The appearance of the 40-year-old Dwain Chambers – the British and European 60m indoor record-holder with a time of 6.42 who has come out of retirement – in a field which also contains the likes of former world and double European indoor champion Richard Kilty has added more than a little colour to proceedings.
Mitchell-Blake admits to having picked Chambers’ brains in the past on how to improve on his 60m performance and would very much like to put those tips into practice at the Arena Birmingham in his first indoor race on British soil since before leaving the country to live in Jamaica at the age of 13.
“We’ve got two world indoor champions in the field in Richard Kilty and Dwain Chambers so you’ve got to respect them – they’re both major competitors,” says the European silver medallist. “I understand Dwain’s come out of retirement so it should be fun for him, for the crowd and for athletics in general and Richard has been coming into form.
“I’m not typically a great 60m runner but I want to see if I can sharpen things up and get better.”
Chambers’ attempt to resume his sprinting career has taken many by surprise, not least some of his opponents this weekend. A controversial figure following his two-year ban for doping in 2004, the 2010 world indoor champion clocked 6.70 at Lee Valley in December and is targeting a top two place along with a time of 6.60 or quicker that would seal his return to international competition.
Mitchell-Blake insists the veteran’s presence is a welcome one.
“I’m a big fan of Dwain,” he says. “Not many men have gone faster and I’ve actually spoken to him in the past to get tips on how to run a better 60m. I wasn’t quite able to put them into place but hopefully this year I’ll be able to put them in place.
“I’m sure it (Chambers’ return) was a surprise to all of us but he did run at Lee Valley, he ran a respectable time too so he’s still no slouch. You’ve got to respect him as an athlete and a competitor.
“I think it’s good for the sport,” Mitchell-Blake added. “I’m comfortable racing with anybody in the lanes beside me. I don’t pay too much attention to one particular name. Everyone’s got a past and everyone’s got a future. I’m not here to judge, I’m just here to race.”
Mitchell-Blake has spent the winter at his new training base in Florida after moving to work with the group led by Lance Brauman which also contains the likes of fellow Britons Matthew Hudson-Smith and Jazmin Sawyers, as well as Noah Lyles and Tyson Gay.
After six years under Dennis Shaver in Louisiana, the 24-year-old is enjoying the change of scene.
“I’ve got a PB of 19.95 and I’m one of the slower ones so I love training with those guys every day,” he laughs. “I was at LSU with Dennis Shaver for six years and we had a great relationship. I had the opportunity to change scenery and I took it. With this sport, you get one shot at it. Coach Shaver was actually coach Brauman’s mentor so it’s a very similar set-up but it’s nice to be in a professional environment and change things up a little bit.
He adds: “I don’t take any day at training for granted. I’ve got some great, experienced guys around me. Even the likes of Noah, who’s younger than me – he’s setting the world alight right now. To go to war with those guys daily and hold your own, it shows me that I’m in good stead right now.”
Mitchell-Blake will have some questions answered this weekend and admits to an air of uncertainty as to how these championships will unfold – and how Chambers might perform.
“No-one knows what’s going to happen,” he adds. “Anybody can get beat. Hopefully I can beat him but there’s other people in the race and I’ve also got to focus on myself first and foremost.
“You can’t look too much into the age – we’ll see how it goes.
“Nobody likes to lose but if you do lose then you’ve got to take it on the chin and keep moving. I don’t like to talk about getting beat, I don’t focus on getting beat. My mindset when I race is on not getting beat so hopefully I can come out with a victory.”