Two years after switching allegiance to run for Italy, Antonio Infantino believes he has found the perfect lifestyle to achieve sprinting success on the track.
The 26-year-old from Hertfordshire, who has won the UK Inter-Counties title three years in a row, is looking forward to a bumper year of competition including the European Athletics Championships, where he reached the semi-finals in 2016.
“I’ve been running since I was fourteen, I’ve trained with a lot of set-ups and groups and I think for me, the way I run and my work commitments, I’ve figured out what I need to run fast.
“I’m working with my old coach Josh Nevers-Simpson, having been with Ryan Freckleton for a while with a lot of quick guys. I’ve enjoyed being a bit more creative, doing my own strength and conditioning and using Josh as kind of a Head Coach.”
Naturally the European Championships in Berlin this summer is the main goal for 2018. Antonio is keen to recapture the adrenaline rush the event gave him last time out.
“I loved it in Amsterdam. I had just switched to Italy, it was my first senior competition and I had a great experience. In the semi-final, I managed 20.9 in the outside lane, a decent performance which I really enjoyed.
“I’ve always considered myself Italian”, he says, and it is clear from our conversation that there is real passion for wearing the Azzurri blue. “It’s like new life in my track career. I’ve won domestic junior titles here, but it is so difficult to even come in the top five in the trials.
“I’ve loved adopting the culture of my parents and adjusting to a new language. Once I made the decision, I knew it would mean spending time in Italy and going to relay camps, while at competitions my training partners running for GB would be at different hotels and different cafés. I knew it was outside of my comfort zone, but since then I haven’t looked back. It’s the best thing I’ve done in my career.”
The Italian team appears to have a bright future, which also means competition for places. Antonio just missed out on the time he needed for London 2017, and there are a number of young hopefuls getting faster around him.
“We have a good chance of a medal in the 4x100m, which would be my first international medal. There is a quick group of guys…hopefully I can set the team up well on the first leg.” The team includes European under-20 champion Filippo Tortu, who has run 10.1, Eseosa Desalu, who has a best of 10.4 and European 200m finalist Davide Manenti.
With Italy failing to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, there are shoes to fill this summer. Shock play-off defeat to Sweden brought disappointment for Antonio – a big football fan himself – yet track and field could gain some of the spotlight. “The media crucified the football team! I think money has gone away from football after they didn’t quality. Since we had the Grosseto European juniors, a lot of young guys signed with Nike.”
The progression of his compatriots gives Antonio a chance to reflect on what has been a strong transition to senior level, albeit he admits it has sometimes been a learning process.
“In 2016, I dropped down to 20.53 and you always expect to keep getting quicker. I thought I’d run 20.3 the following year, but I learnt that’s not how it works in track. Last year, I enjoyed a successful European Team Championships, my first Diamond League and world trials.”
“Unfortunately I didn’t quite make it to the World Championships. I had a couple of near misses – I ran 20.45 and assumed the 20.44 entry standard would happen – I was unlucky.
While taking a second to mull over what might’ve been, Antonio has the positive dilemma of choosing his finest achievement to date. “I loved winning my first English Schools title, the junior boys one, in 2005.
“I was 14-years-old and had only been doing athletics for a couple of months, semi-seriously. It was great going back to school and telling everyone I was the fastest schoolboy in England! But 12th at Euro 2016, in terms of ranking, is a real success.”
The former King’s College London student has come a long way since then, picking up a number of British Universities (BUCS) medals in the process. But Antonio believes it was after university that he really discovered his current focus.
“There was a time when I never took it seriously. Once my life had stability and I was working at Sky Sports, I realised I can work and train and that this is something I can actually do. I mostly work evenings and weekends at Sky and can train mornings. I think I’m lucky in that respect.”
“Initially I didn’t train enough, eat well enough, or sleep well enough. At the end of 2014, I ran 20.6 into a head wind and then I looked at where I would be, which at that point was second in Italy.”
With determination to succeed, passion for his country and the chance of a senior international medal, it seems there are plenty of targets to aim for. “I’ll be at the trials in Birmingham at as guest, hoping to secure a Mediterranean Games place and I’d like to secure a European place earlier by going to Florida.
“I’d also like to run 100m a bit more competitively. I ran a windy 10.1 last year, but my legal quickest was 10.3 and I just didn’t run enough of them. I hope to bring my best to Berlin.”