Chasing Greatness Keeps Ronnie Baker on Track

Ronnie Baker's goal has always been to break the world record and be the best sprinter he can be. Now that he's heading to the Tokyo Olympics with the third fastest time in history in his pocket, that goal feels more real than ever before.

Chasing Greatness Keeps Ronnie Baker on Track banner

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For someone whose name is already down in the record books as one of the fastest humans of all time, Ronnie Baker is remarkably humble about his accomplishments. That's because this 27-year-old athlete already knows how quickly fortunes can change.

After dominating the Diamond League circuit in 2018, a pair of injuries in 2019 put Baker out of commission for most of the season. His redemptive return to racing earlier this year proved his time off was well spent, breaking the meet record at the Texas Relays in March and peaking at precisely the right time to score a spot on Team USA.

Nine days before he was set to leave for Tokyo, Baker spoke with about breaking records, his recovery routine, and how it feels to prep for the Tokyo Olympic games.

You're getting ready to leave for Tokyo in just a few days. How does traveling around the world affect your race-day prep?

Ronnie: I love to travel, and I have a whole routine to help my body recover. First of all, I wear a pair of compression tights the entire flight—which can be very annoying, by the way. When I get to my destination, I usually do [compression] boots a couple of times with my feet elevated. By the time I stand up, it feels like there's no blood in my legs, but it's what gets that fresh blood going. It's a lot of sitting around, but it helps with training the next day.

Then there's jet lag. I try to stay up the entire day for as long as I can the first day, past 11 p.m. if possible. Then I just sleep until I literally can't sleep anymore. You're not going to be fully adjusted that second day anyway, so you can go to bed at a decent time because you're still going to be tired regardless. Then I just wake up at a normal time and everything feels somewhat back to normal.

You are currently the third-fastest man in history in the 60 meters and broke the meet record for the 100 meters at the Texas relays earlier this year. How does it feel to be breaking those records going into the Games?

Breaking that record was a really special moment for me because I broke a barrier. I was running about 6.45 going into it, and I didn't think I was going to be able to run even close to 6.40, let alone do it in that meet.

Looking back on it, I have to give myself credit. My goal was always to run the world record—to be the best I can and never shoot for anything less than that. I worked super hard, so to do that and have the third fastest time in history is pretty special. It's in the record books now.

You've mentioned your heroes like Muhammad Ali and Usain Bolt in some of your posts. Now you actually have a shot at Bolt's record when you go to Tokyo. How are you preparing for something so monumental?

It's really surreal. Getting to a point where there are conversations with me and Usain Bolt in the same sentence—that is pretty special. He's someone who literally was running times we didn't think were even possible. It is very, very humbling.

I'm not the person to brag about all my accomplishments. Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt—these are guys who transcended their sport and literally changed history. I know I'm just standing on the shoulders of the people who came before me.

In 2019, you had an injury that forced you to pull back from training. What were some of the things you did to help your body recover?

I found out that bone stuff does not heal quickly, and you can't do things like massage to help it heal faster. Bone just takes a long time, and it was challenging because it kept me out for an entire season.

My injury recovery was a lot of ups and downs. I would run and then be in so much pain the next day I couldn't do anything. My coach and I approached each workout prepared to do as much as we possibly could, because we were probably going to end up taking two days off. As someone who's competitive, it was hard.

About six weeks before the outdoor national championships, doctors told me it was healing, but sprinting on it was maybe not the best option. Again, I'm super competitive, we'd been training for this all year, and I wanted to make the world team. So, I went for it. I was running really slow in the beginning, and that was a little disheartening, but over those six weeks I got a lot better.

What did you learn about yourself during that process?

I was really optimistic about winning a gold medal in the 2019 championships, so I got very focused on doing more, which I probably shouldn't have because I was already doing enough and winning. I learned that sometimes less is more. You need to work smarter and not harder. That was a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

I really think it was a blessing. It was time for me to lean into my faith and trust and believe that God didn't bring me this far just to leave me. In that year of recovery, I realized that track is not who I am, it's just what I do. That was special because it helped me find my peace and my purpose.

You came in second at the qualifiers. Are you using that as motivation heading into the Tokyo Olympics?

I think if you ask any American sprinter about being second in the trials, a lot of them will say if you're in the top three, you win. That's the only meet where that applies because it's the Olympic trials, and the goal is just to get on the team.

There was a lot of pressure on me coming in. Once I saw my name on the top three, I was so relieved because all that stress was finally over. I think it took me a couple of days to recover from an emotional standpoint. Everyone I've talked to agrees the trials are so much harder in that sense, and in some ways, it makes the Games feel a bit easier.

How prepared do you feel now?

In sports and in life, not everything is going to go smoothly. There are going to be wrenches thrown in your plan. But as long as you keep your goals in front of you, no matter what the circumstances, you can keep executing the plan and figuring out how to get closer to that goal.