(Reuters) - No longer is Ronnie Baker that other guy in the fast lane with America’s best sprinters.
Back-to-back Diamond League victories have brought the 24-year-old new attention as he heads to this week’s U.S. national championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
A victory in Friday’s 100 meters, he hopes, will earn him even more acclaim, something that has eluded the Kentucky native despite his world indoor 60m bronze medal in March and outdoor victories over world champions Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman and Canadian triple Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse the past two years.
“I was ranked top 10 in the world in the 100 and third in the nation (last year) and still people don’t know who I am,” Baker told Reuters in a telephone interview from Texas where he trains.
“So I feel like overlooked is an understatement. I’ve been kind of like a nobody really.”
The U.S. championships, despite the absence of Coleman and Gatlin, could change that.
Baker’s 100m showdown with 200m sensation Noah Lyles and Olympians Mike Rodgers and Isiah Young should be one of the highlights of the four-day meeting which begins on Thursday.
All four are within one-hundredth of a second of each other with Rodgers and Young having clocked 9.92 seconds this season.
“It’s definitely going to be exciting,” Baker said.
“Noah (age 20) is a young guy, younger than I am. Just to see him running those times at the same time I am running now is definitely special.”
The winner becomes the U.S. 100m entry in July’s eight nation Athletics World Cup in London.
That would be important to Baker, who missed U.S. teams for the 2015 and 2017 world championships and 2016 Olympics.
A quick starter, he twice won U.S. collegiate 60m honors at Texas Christian University and was the 2017 U.S. champion in the event.
But even in his bronze medal performance at the 2018 world indoor championships, Baker was overshadowed by Coleman, the new world record holder and world champion.
The two met again over 100m at the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon in May, and Baker blazed to a wind-assisted 9.78 seconds for a big win over Coleman (9.84).
Only 10 men have ever run faster under any conditions.
Five days later the Americans raced again in Rome with Baker the clear winner as an ailing Coleman faded to fourth.
“I don’t want to make them like the highlights of my season, but they are pretty special,” Baker said of the Diamond League victories.
“Everyone has been talking about how I got faster in the last 30 to 40 meters.”
But they shouldn’t be surprised, Baker said.
“I think that has always been the key point in my races. I just think that I am a lot stronger now and I am starting to really learn how to execute better and be more efficient in the race.
“My coach says my start is hit or miss but he knows down at the end of the track I am going to accelerate well.
“Sixty to 100 meters is the Ronnie Baker show.”
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, Editing by William Maclean