Tracksuit on as he luxuriates in a quiet Manchester Airport lounge, Richard Kilty is relishing being back in his element. It has been four years since he last had the pleasure of waiting for budget airlines to compete in obscure parts of eastern Europe during the winter – a time occupied by injury, stints on the BBC athletics sofa, an Olympic medal won but snatched away, and the first steps into what he hopes will be a future coaching career. Now, belatedly, he has returned to his beloved indoor stage for the start of a farewell journey.
Kilty, the last British man to win a global sprint title – upsetting extraordinary 66-1 odds to claim world 60m gold a decade ago next month – has decided he has one more year in his battered legs. All being well, he will close his running career by avenging that heartbreaking Olympic 4x100m relay loss – caused by teammate CJ Ujah’s doping misdemeanour – in Paris this summer. But that all depends on his current graft.
Dropped from British Athletics funding soon after his 34th birthday last year, Kilty has been told in the most simplistic terms that he must prove himself capable of running fast enough this winter to gain re-selection for a GB relay squad that he has been a mainstay of for the past 10 years. Which explains why he is back running indoors.
So far, he has responded with a 60m time he has bettered only once since claiming European gold in 2017; a mark that places him third in this year’s British rankings.
But a laser focus means he will not line up at next weekend’s British indoor championships, nor the Glasgow world indoor championships at the start of March. Everything he does is part of a sole objective: to make it to Paris. To bow out on a high. To end his career on his own terms.
“I’ve got the venom back in me now,” he insists. “The last couple of years I’ve been so cautious with injuries, but if I’m going to do it this year, I’m going to go out all guns blazing.
“I don’t want to just train moderately in case I get injured. So I’ve put my foot down and taken a gamble. It’s like I’ve taken the safety off.”
It is a brave outlook, even more so when considering this is actually something of a Plan B.
Within British athletics circles, it was widely expected that Kilty was on the cusp of announcing his retirement at the start of this year. Roped in to help coach the GB 4x100m teams at last summer’s world championships after injuries prevented him from gaining selection as an athlete, Kilty was thought to be in line for a permanent coaching position with the governing body.
But, amid the endless turmoil of the federation’s rotating cast of senior officials, the opportunity failed to materialise.
Kilty opts against commenting on the particulars of that situation, but does confirm his long-term goal to move into elite coaching: “My passion would be to do that for British Athletics but that door isn’t open at the moment, so any nation that offers me an opportunity I would certainly take it up.”
Instead, he has devoted himself to running at the Olympics; one more shot to regain what he believes is rightfully his. It is little more than two years since Kilty said he would never forgive Ujah, who was banned for 22 months for what he claimed was a contaminated supplement.
Kilty has not seen or spoken to Ujah since his teammate returned to competition last summer, but says the passing of time has not softened his stance: “I said what I said and I’ll stand by that for the rest of my life.”
The lost silver medal is an important motivator in his decision to keep going. So, too, is a desperation to rekindle his joy from a sport that has crippled him.
Over the past four years, Kilty has endured two shoulder operations, achilles surgery, multiple epidurals in his back, two groin tears, two hamstring tears and various minor complaints too trivial to note. There were times, he admits, when he questioned why he was bothering to continue.
“I would wake up every day and feel like my body was broken,” he says. “But I didn’t want to go out on an MRI scanner. I didn’t want that to be my last memory of the sport.”
He describes the 2014 world title which preceded two European 60m golds as the moment that “completely changed my life”. As well as financial security, it provided him a profile in the sport that has resulted in a semi-regular spot as a BBC athletics pundit during his various competitive absences of recent years.
Known for his brash demeanour in his youth, maturity has seen him become an outspoken breath of fresh air on an often stale studio panel that he believes would benefit from “a reshuffle”.
He says: “I love being honest. That’s what you get from me: black and white honesty. There are a lot of people repeating the obvious or re-answering questions with the answer. There’s got to be something different on there and that’s what I provide.”
His passion for the sport at all levels is evident, pleading for “stability and structure” in the face of continued job changes at the British Athletics helm, while also detailing personal plans to open a free children’s athletics academy in Middlesbrough.
In the future, he wants to help the grassroots as much as he would love to work with Britain’s elite. Before then, he just wants to see the Olympic rings and feel the baton in his hand one last time.