Ronnie Baker hasn’t had the best of luck in recent years.
Aside from a sterling 2018 campaign – during which he earned world indoor bronze and set PBs of 6.40 for 60m and 9.87 for 100m – he has had more than his fair share of misfortune.
Even his collegiate career was something of a rollercoaster ride. He won back-to-back NCAA indoor titles over 60m in 2015 and 2016 during his time at Texas Christian University, but never reached an individual final at the outdoor NCAA Championships.
In 2015 he earned selection for the World University Games in Gwangju and was one of the medal favourites in the 100m, having clocked a PB of 10.05 and a marginally wind-assisted 9.94 in the weeks leading up to the event. But a slow reaction time in the final cost him a medal as he finished fourth, just 0.01 shy of bronze.
He had two chances of redemption in the relays there, but they didn’t quite materialise either as his teammates failed to get the baton around in their 4x100m heat, and then the US 4x400m team was disqualified from the 4x400m final.
Baker has had a fair few near-misses at national championships, too. He finished seventh at the 2015 US Championships, missed the final by one place at the 2016 Olympic Trials, and was hampered by an untimely injury at the 2017 US Championships, again missing the final after clocking a wind-assisted 9.86 just one month prior.
The stars aligned for Baker in 2018 and he was finally able to fulfil his potential. At the start of the year he became the third-fastest 60m sprinter in history, clocking 6.40, and he went on to take bronze in a high-quality final at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham.
Outdoors, he put together a string of international victories including at the Diamond League meetings in Eugene, Rome, Paris and London. He set four 100m PBs along the way, topped by a 9.87 run – making him the 10th-fastest US man in history – and backed up with a wind-assisted 9.78.
But after that outstanding season, Baker then endured his most frustrating year to date.
Persistent injuries delayed the start of his 2019 campaign, so much so that the US Championships in July was his season debut. He won his heat and semi-final, the latter with 10.28 into a -3.7m/s headwind, and then finished fifth in the final, just 0.08 shy of securing a place on USA’s team for the World Championships in Doha.
But even if he had placed in the top three, it’s unlikely he would have made it to Doha in one piece as he had injuries in his left hamstring and in his left adductor. “Two injuries in the span of about two months,” he says. “The second one kept me out for a while. It was a grind just to get myself to the US Championships.
“It was rough, it was really hard to rehab and get back together, but I took some time off after nationals and felt better,” he added. “It's in the past, so now I'm moving forward.”
Baker is able to put his injury-hit 2019 season behind him now, but it was a year-long struggle, mentally and physically. Having beaten Christian Coleman twice during 2018 – the only man in the world to do so – in 2019 Baker couldn’t quite bring himself to follow the international sprinting scene, which culminated in Coleman winning the world title in Doha.
“I didn't really watch the sprints,” he says. “I watched a little bit of it here and there, but I was just trying to keep my mind away from it. It was a good time to take a break and take a breather. It was good not being able to see it and focusing on getting back healthy.”
Back in the game
When Baker lined up for the 60m at the Millrose Games last month, no one knew what to expect.
More than six months had passed since his last race, and it had been almost two years since his last indoor 60m. Understandably, he was a little sluggish out of the blocks, but he soon got into his stride and caught Demek Kemp, the then world leader, just before the line, winning in 6.54.
Naturally, he continued to improve as the season progressed. He won in Glasgow (6.50) and in Lievin (6.44) and completed his undefeated indoor campaign in Madrid with another 6.44.
His victories at the latter three meets meant he ended the season as the winner of the men’s 60m on the World Athletics Indoor Tour, although he will now have to wait until next year to use his wild card for the World Indoor Championships in Nanjing after the event was postponed due to the spread of the corona virus.
“It's a good time, but it's not the world lead,” he said of his 6.44 runs, which equalled his fastest ever 60m clocking at sea level. “I'm always trying to be the best. When I'm second, it hurts me. That's just the fight in me.
“I felt like I would have done really, really well at the World Indoors. But you just have to roll with the punches.”
“It feels good (to be back),” added Baker, who is coached by Darryl Anderson. “I did three meets in the space of seven days, so just getting back into competition mode has been fun. If I can put together 6.44 and 6.44 in a matter of two days, I think that's pretty special, especially as I was pretty tired (in Madrid).”
The 26-year-old is now looking ahead with optimism to the rest of the year and is targeting a place on USA’s team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“I'm really excited for the outdoor season,” he says. “I definitely have a lot to work on leading up to the Olympics this year, but it's just good to be back.
“Making the Olympic team, then getting a medal,” he adds. “That's the goal.”
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics