Two-time NCAA champion at TCU will compete in 100-meter dash
A former sprinter herself, Lachelle Baker recalls watching her son, Ronnie, compete as a freshman at Ballard High School and never dreaming he’d have a bright future in track and field.
“He was just out there running – no form, nothing,” she said. “I had to keep it to myself because I used to run track. When I saw him I just kind of laughed, like, ‘OK, that’s cool.’”
No one is laughing about Ronnie Baker’s running style these days.
Baker recently finished a fine career at Texas Christian University – winning back-to-back NCAA Indoor Championships in the 60-meter dash in 2015 and 2016 – and now has the opportunity to make the U.S. Olympic team. He will compete in the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials set for July 1-10 in Eugene, Oregon.
“I knew he was going to be a good college athlete,” said Donald Goodwin, Baker’s coach at Ballard. “But what he’s achieved in these short sprints, I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have expected it.”
Baker was born in Louisville, moved with his family to Anchorage, Alaska, when he was 3 and returned to Louisville at the age of 12. He was a two-sport athlete at Ballard, also playing basketball. While top-end track athletes might train year-round, Baker wouldn’t join the team until basketball season ended in March.
He didn’t join a club team in track and field until the summer before his junior year. It was later that year that Lachelle Baker saw a change in her son on the track.
“I was in the stands doing homework or something, and all of a sudden I hear all these kids cheering,” she said. “I looked up and saw this kid really bringing it and I was cheering. The other kids were cheering, ‘Ronnie! Ronnie!’ I was like, ‘That’s my kid!’
“He looked like a totally different person. The form was so different than what I was used to seeing. I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing. From that moment on, he kept excelling and excelling.”
Baker was named the Gatorade Kentucky Track and Field Athlete of the Year as a junior and a senior. As a senior in 2012, Baker won the Class 3-A state title in the 100 in 10.65 seconds and the 400 in 47.18 seconds and was second behind Trinity’s James Quick in the 200.
Baker chose TCU over Ohio State. Horned Frogs coach Darryl Anderson, a former assistant coach at the University of Kentucky, was intrigued with Baker from the start.
“I thought he was a little underdeveloped because he wasn’t doing it year-round,” Anderson said. “But with the performances he had under those circumstances, it made him a little bit better for me.”
Baker focused on the 400 as a freshman and sophomore at TCU before finding a niche in the 60, which is an indoors-only event on the NCAA level. He won the national title as a junior with a time of 6.52 seconds and repeated last March with a time of 6.47 seconds, setting a meet record.
“For me to win on that biggest stage was overwhelming,” Baker said. “I think I always had the potential for doing that, but it was never for sure that it was going to happen for me. It helped me elevate my running and what I do on an every-day basis as far as training and diet.”
Anderson said he believes Baker’s best days are still to come in the 100. His personal records in the event are 10.05 seconds (legal) and 9.94 seconds (wind-aided). He’ll have to finish in the top three to qualify for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but he also could earn a spot on the 400 relay team.
Meanwhile, minor hamstring problems have hampered Baker’s training for the Trials.
“He’s a baby to this 100-meter stuff,” Anderson said. “The way he’s blossomed really quickly, to me, makes him pretty special. He’s really fast in the 60 meters, and his 60-meter and his 100-meter time aren’t going together yet. There are reasons that hasn’t happened yet, and that’s just 100-meter reps. He just hasn’t run many 100s. … I guarantee you he’s better at 100 meters than he is at 60 meters.”
Whether or not he makes the Olympic team, Baker is planning a long career in track and field. He’s set to graduate from TCU in December with a degree in kinesiology and said he envisions a career as a strength coach, athletic trainer or track and field coach.
And there’s always the lure of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“The biggest thing I have to do is focus on myself,” Baker said. “I get distracted a lot by what’s going on around me during the race. It’s not really Rio or bust for me. I know after this I will have a professional career where I’ll be running for a while … and if not making this Olympics maybe make the next one (in 2020).”
* Baker is one of three athletes with Louisville ties who qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, joining Bobby Curtis and Shamier Little.
Curtis is a 2003 St. Xavier graduate who qualified in the 10,000 meters. Little was born in Louisville, grew up in Chicago and attends Texas A&M. She qualified in the 400 hurdles.
Lutisha Bowen, a 2008 Ballard graduate, already has qualified for the Olympics and will represent Panama in the 100 hurdles
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. OLYMPIC TRACK AND FIELD TEAM TRIALS
* When: July 1-10.
* Where: Eugene, Oregon.
* Ronnie Baker’s schedule: The first round of qualifying for the men’s 100-meter dash is set for 4:01 p.m. EDT on Saturday, July 2. The semifinals (7:19 p.m.) and final (8:53 p.m.) are set for Sunday, July 3. Races will be televised live by NBC and NBC Sports Network.