by Leon Reid.

 

I’ve a tattoo “English heart Irish blood.”

Came up with that all by myself. Honestly didn’t know about the Morrissey song ‘Irish blood, English heart,’ so it’s not an exact rip off, but it says a lot about who I am, and always will be.

During the World Cup this summer I had my England shirt on for every game. Someone inevitably said, “Aw, look how much he wants to run for Ireland.”

“Hang on, mate, I was born in England. I was raised for most of my life in foster homes all over the place. Fourteen different families but I began life in the city of Bath.”

When David Beckham had cornrows I had cornrows! Getting behind the England team doesn’t make me less Irish. Like most people not born in Ireland we become more Irish because we seek knowledge about our heritage. We dig deeper into our Irishness.

I understand what it means to be English as well, but my mother is from Belfast and my foster mother is from Wexford (so is my Gran!). There’s no getting away from it.

I bleed Irish blood.

Will Irish Athletics have a problem if I support Senegal? What if I decide to trace my roots all the way back to Africa? What then?

The world has changed.

“I’m Irish, mate,” I replied to the comment about wearing a football jersey, “always have been.”

Got the family to prove it. Nothing wrong with having an English heart as well.

Nothing wrong with being a bit of both.

I qualified to run for Ireland because I’m Irish. It’s not like I’m an African running for a Scandinavian country having never set foot on ‘home’ soil. That’s the very reason it took so long to get me qualified to wear my green super hero costume…

2018 European Athletics Championships - Day 3, Olympic Stadium, Berlin, Germany 8/8/2018 Men's 200m Semi-Final Ireland's Leon Reid on his way to finishing second Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

2018 European Athletics Championships – Day 3, Olympic Stadium, Berlin, Germany 8/8/2018 Men’s 200m Semi-Final Ireland’s Leon Reid on his way to finishing second Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

I am a championship performer. Put me in the blocks sprinting for Ireland – because Great Britain didn’t offer the same opportunity – and I feel I can beat anyone.

The European Championships in Berlin was a special and vital experience at this point in my career. Four days notice wasn’t ideal and I carried a hip injury into the 200m final but the semi-final race against Ramil Guliyev tells me, and I hope everyone else, there is so much more to come.

The plan was simple, Guliyev is the world champion and fastest 200m runner since Usain Bolt, so I’ll stick with him.

I was in lane three, Guliyev lane four and he took off after the guy in lane five. There was heat coming from lane two as well but I held my form coming off the bend.

Clarity in a race brings a wonderful feeling. I can run faster than these guys! I picked up the pace to force the world champion to dip over the finish line. Second place wasn’t bad for my first major championship run.

I got unlucky being drawn in lane eight for the final. Still buzzing when David Gillick on RTÉ said the green suits me, I smiled: “Yeah, it’s like a super suit…My mum came off work to fly out and see me so I couldn’t let her down…I came off the bend and he didn’t go so I was like “I’ll go at you”. Gave him a little look and now everyone is gonna recognise the green when we come off that turn.”

The final was absolutely rapid – Guliyev won with a championship record of 19.76.

I’d had a hip problem all year. That morning a shooting pain went into my hamstring and there was nerve damage in my leg. I didn’t say anything to anybody. European final. You just want to run.

That’s what niggles at me. I wasn’t at my best.

Lane eight is tough for any 200m sprinter because you have to run wider and lane six or seven tend to pass you but I usually kick off the bend. In that race, the biggest of my career to date, I was on one leg. There was no extra gear.

2018 European Athletics Championships - Day 4, Olympic Stadium, Berlin, Germany 9/8/2018 Men's 200m Final Ireland's Leon Reid trails home as Trukey's Ramon Gullev celebrates victory Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

2018 European Athletics Championships – Day 4, Olympic Stadium, Berlin, Germany 9/8/2018 Men’s 200m Final Ireland’s Leon Reid trails home as Trukey’s Ramon Gullev celebrates victory Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

But that will come. Next time I race in a major final I will be ready. Less niggles. My personal best is 20.27 but in the next year I intend on running 20.00 (which would have won silver in Berlin).

The 2019 world championships are in Qatar – that’s the next major goal – but none of this intimidates me. Nothing fazes me on the track.

I spent my childhood floating from foster home to foster home. Claire is my mum since I was 11 but Ann-Marie is my birth mother, and she passed away in 2016 but I still get over to Belfast for weddings and other celebrations. There’s plenty of family and friends as I’ve been part of the Northern Ireland relay team and sprint squads.

Irish Life Health National Senior Championships, Morton Stadium, Santry, Dublin 29/7/2018 Men's 100m Final Menapians A.C. Leon Reid celebrates winning the Men's 100m Final Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Irish Life Health National Senior Championships, Morton Stadium, Santry, Dublin 29/7/2018 Men’s 100m Final Menapians A.C. Leon Reid celebrates winning the Men’s 100m Final Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Drug abuse and the seemingly inevitable descent into crime for a foster kid was something I avoided. You grown up very quickly, it’s survival of the fitness, because if you aren’t wise to your surroundings there’s a repetitive circle that leads to trouble.

I choose another route. Entering foster homes you learn to read people in an instant. New families give you a sense for what the coming weeks will be like. Your antennae is always up. You need to figure out if you are wanted or not. Everyone is going to judge you before you say a word. He’s a foster child so he must be difficult. They wait for you to slip up. You can go with that, give them the person they are expecting or prove them wrong.

I choose to surprise people.

I played all sports, striker in football and rugby winger obviously being from Bath, playing on all the school teams.

Sprinting came later. I was mapped by UK Athletics but the support any sprinter needs wasn’t always available. They seem to make their mind up to back certain individuals and the rest of us suffer.

So this career didn’t just happen overnight. I’m 24 and have been working three jobs – in a supplement store, barman at a night club and coach in a primary school – so five hours was a good night’s sleep.

Imagine what I can do if funded to train full time?

Hopefully that will come from Sport Ireland.

It’s been a tough few years, but I like when all the odds are stacked against me.

The indoors this year wasn’t a great experience. A rival spat near me, my gear was nicked, but I remain the eternal optimist. There is always a message behind the actions of others. This was an attempt to climb inside my head, so they must be worried about my speed, maybe they are not 100 percent confident they can beat me. I am positive I can beat them. That’s where that behaviour is coming from. Yeah, they must fear my speed.

The Europeans in Berlin was where I want to be, I enjoyed the buzz of the stadium, it felt like I belonged, but for me the only success is a medal.

There is a long road ahead but I’ve already told my mum to book tickets for Tokyo 2020. She’s already paid up for Doha next year. Major championships are in my sights.

Wearing the green super suit anything is possible.

 

Leon,

October 2018.

 

The Sports Chronicle brings you stories from the world of sport by the players, the coaches and the unsung heroes, all in their own words.

This all began with a contribution from Jamie Heaslip, one of the greatest servants to Irish rugby, with The End is Really The Beginning Part 1 and Part 2.

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