'I'll be back for Tokyo 2020' – Ellington on comeback from motorbike crash

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“This scar is where I snapped my tibia and my fibia and they were poking through through the skin.”

It is one of the few visible signs that James Ellington had ever suffered any major trauma.

Looking at the 33-year-old, he appears to be every inch the two-time Olympic sprinter and double European relay champion.

That’s how he was when he celebrated New Year 2017.

Two weeks later he was in intensive care in a Tenerife hospital after a motorbike accident left him with multiple broken bones.

“My ankle was up here and I was like ‘that doesn’t make sense’,” he told BBC Sport, pointing to somewhere north of his right knee.

Aside from this – the most gruesome of his injuries – he also sustained fractures to his eye socket, pelvis and ankle, lacerations and the loss of six pints of blood.

His right leg is now pinned together with a carbon fibre rod and he has screws and bolts throughout his lower body.

How could anyone’s body come back from that, let alone an elite athlete return to competing again?

“The medical staff were doubtful but from day one I said, ‘unless I lose my leg, I’ll be back’,” said Ellington.

“Mentally, I’ve never doubted my comeback.”

James Ellington's X-ray of his leg

The crash happened on a rest day during a GB relay team training camp in the Canary Islands, at a time when Ellington was at his peak.

He was running close to sub-10 seconds for the 100m, he had lucrative sponsorship deals on the table, and he could well have been a world champion 4x100m runner later that year as part of the GB team in London.

“Physically I was capable of running some serious times that year and changing my life. And then boom.”

Life changed in a different way. With him unable to walk for two months, the sponsors withdrew, his career in doubt.

His athlete lottery funding eventually ceased and he says some people who had shown concern at first have since faded into the shadows.

“Initially every man and his dog wanted to be there for me,” he said. “But when you get out of hospital is when you really need people.

“I’m doing this almost on my own and surviving on the remnants of my funding.

“I’m good with money but I might have to get a job of some kind before long.”

Despite the various obstacles, Ellington has been pulling on his spikes and running on the track at Brunel University for a couple of months.

The road back has been long and painful. After some sessions he is unable to walk. But each day brings more progress.

“After the crash my mind reset and when I get my spikes on I have that childlike feeling that I just want to run,” he said.

But “just running” will not cut it for Ellington.

“I love athletics but I don’t want to do it just to keep fit. I want to become the same if not better than before,” he said.

“Some people will be like ‘you are off your head’ but I will be back, that’s not even in doubt.”

James Ellington's leg

Ellington says he is at “around 60%” but is aiming to be competitive by late May.

He says “maybe I’ll shed a tear” on that day, before conceding he is not overly emotional. What he is, however, is incredibly focused, single-minded and ambitious.

“My goal in 2019 is to make the team for the Athletics World Championships in Doha,” he said.

“If I don’t do it, and I get close, there’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be back for 2020, in Tokyo, at the Olympics.

“If I can get back to a good standard this year I know I’m going – that’s not even a question.

“If I do do it, it will be one of the biggest comeback stories in sporting history, probably.”

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BBC Sport – Athletics

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