L E M F R E C K – otherwise known as Lemarl Freckleton – has a dream of sprinting for Wales at the Commonwealth Games. That is, when he’s not dreaming of more fame in the world of rap, or appearing on Glastonbury main stage, or a revival of his tennis career. Wales’ coolest athlete tells all to Owen Morgan.
Radio One airtime and a 100m performance which convinced him a Commonwealth Games place is achievable . . . 2020 wasn’t so bad for Lemarl Freckleton.
While most of us were glad to see the back of last year, the Newport sprinter and musician can look back at the past 12 months as something of a breakthrough year.
All this despite himself contracting COVID-19 and the devastating loss of coach Lloyd Cowan at the start of this year.
Freckleton’s love of music and athletics run side by side in his busy life and last year, both of his passions took a huge step forward.
In August, he clocked a wind-assisted 10.66 – his fastest 100m time – on the back of minimal preparations due to the pandemic and an injury-plagued 18-months.
Then, in November, DJ Huw Stephens featured Freckleton’s musical alter ego.
L E M F R E C K’s track U Gd? on his hugely successful Radio One show, which champions exciting emerging talent.
Since then he has been named as one of BBC Music Introducing’s “ones to watch” for 2021, which has seen him again played on Radio One and a number of other stations.
The multi-talented musician and sportsman, who divides his time between London and his home city, has taken a huge amount of pleasure and confidence from those twin successes.
Commenting on his run at Welsh Athletics’ COVID-19 pilot event in Swansea last summer, Freckleton told Dai Sport: “I hadn’t really trained too much.
“I was just trying to concentrate on getting back after the hamstring injury but that was a complete surprise. It was good.”
With the Commonwealth Games coming up in 2022, the fiercely patriotic Welshman is now targeting a place in his country’s 4x100m team in Birmingham.
“That was probably my first race back in a year and bit and I loved it,” said the 28-year-old.
“Because it’s Commonwealth year, I want to run quick enough to get into the team if they do end up going. That was a good event for my confidence, it showed me where I could still be.
“Three weeks before that race I didn’t even think there was going to be a season, so it was a case of not really planning to race because I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
Unfortunately, further lockdowns meant Freckleton was unable to capitalise on that comeback performance, but it has spurred him into working hard this winter.
“It was really frustrating going back to training and really wanting to race,” he said.
“I believed I could go quicker. But there was nothing I could get into, which was a bit of a killer.
“But it was the same for a lot of people and I fully understand that and hopefully this season will be a lot more secure.
“It completely changed my mentality going into winter. I’d say I worked harder, a lot harder this winter, making sure reps were the right time, making sure my last rep was working hard.
“In my group now I’ve got Owain (Lloyd Hughes), who was in that race as well, so it’s a case of working as hard has possible. But I wouldn’t have been that focussed if I hadn’t run surprisingly well then.
“So it has made a complete change, especially with my mentality.”
Things had not been looking so rosy before the pilot event with Freckleton having suffered a series of injuries and unsure whether his future lay in the shorter sprints or moving up to 400m.
“The last two years, I just kept having freak injuries,” he said. “I was running really well two years ago, then I slipped in yoga and ended up with a sprain in my knee. It wrote me off for the whole of the winter.
“I came back and I was in great form. It ended up that we decided to do some fours. I opened up with a 49.0 for the first ever four I did, and then I ended up tearing my hamstring. It was a case of one thing after another. ”
Then came the pilot event. “When I spoke to my coach before the race, I said: ‘if I get sub-11 I’ll be happy’ and that’s how we were going into it.
“At least that would be a platform, I’m better than that and I can work on it.”
Freckleton was doubly delighted by the time he achieved because his preparations for that race had also been hampered by COVID-19 restrictions, like most other athletes.
“We were so surprised and I know it has happened to a lot of people,” said the journalism graduate, commenting on last summer’s restricted season.
“I think I learnt a lot in terms of what worked and what didn’t in terms of the lack of strength training.
“Not being able to get to a gym was probably the biggest killer last year because the injury niggles all creep up from not having a base from strength training. And that’s something we’ve concentrated on this year.”
Despite his successes on and off the track, not everything has gone well for Freckleton in recent months.
The Swansea Harrier suffered the double blow of contracting COVID-19 and the death of his coach in London, Lloyd Cowan, earlier this month.
“It was just a huge shock, it came out of nowhere. I’ve not really processed it.” said Freckleton of his coach’s death.
Contracting the virus has also added to a difficult turn of the year, which has hampered Freckleton’s training.
“There are guidelines. The hardest bit is once you’re over it, being able to return back to training because there have been heart complications for athletes who have come back too soon from viruses and stuff.
“So, I’m good but I can’t really train how I want to train because I’m trying to be safe and careful. So that’s where I am at the moment, just doing a lot of hill runs.
“But before I raced in Swansea that’s all I was doing really, I couldn’t get to a track. So it was a case of me doing a lot of hill running, a lot of grass runs and I still ran well, so I might have found the key. I think that may be what I need to do for the rest of my life!”
Back in Newport, Freckleton has turned to former coach Kevin Williams – himself a former Commonwealth Games sprinter – in order to continue his return to form and chase his dream of lining up in Birmingham.
“My group is really good,” he says. “I reckon if I get one healthy season underneath me it will be great. That’s where we are at the moment.
Twice is no accident. Let’s av it! https://t.co/cwTdPbyyKS
— K*ren 🇯🇲🏴 (@LemFreck) January 4, 2021
“I will probably re-evaluate again because different coaches offer different things and Kevin, before I went to London, was my main coach and he was imperative in the good runs I had.
“Kev’s group is a really strong sprint group, if it’s a case of me just being a one and two hundred runner, that’s where we move forward, but if there’s a chance I could possibly incorporate some four training and move forward with that, it would be great.
“I’ve been on the fringes of the Commonwealths now since, I think Glasgow, that was the first one we really had a chance to go to and we missed out on that. We missed out on Gold Coast by something like 0.02 from the qualification.
“So, it’s eluded me too many times now. When it as announced it was going to be in Birmingham, that was the first goal: ‘We are getting into that team’! It’s just how and what event am I going to specify?
“We did end up stepping up to the fours because I thought it was more likely I would run 46-47 than it would me running 10.2.
“But after re-evaluating and the years we’ve had, I do believe the relay team we have right now is the best we’ve ever had. I think if I’m thereabouts, whether I am in that strike four or in the team, we definitely have the chance to go there and do something great.”
Freckleton is part of a growing wave of Welsh talent on the music scene and he believes there is a similar momentum growing in Welsh athletics.
“My athletics life kind of mirrors my music life for that reason. I think it was a case that we are such a close knit group of lads – and the girls as well, I was really close with girls that went to the Commies – that it’s inspired us to be better individually.
“There were days when we would go to Loughborough internationals and just be happy to be there. Racing and coming last in every race.
“And it got to the point where, as an age group, we just didn’t want that anymore, we felt we were better than that. We didn’t like the embarrassment of coming last and we have all just put in the work to push that forward.
“So you have got people like Sam Gordon at the moment who is just like incredible, you’ve got Jez (Jeremiah Azu), Owain (Lloyd Hughes), and we’ve got Josh Brown.
“Then there are people like Dewi (Hammond) who has been there since day one running great times. So, we are scary fast at the moment.
“I believe if we have the right opportunities and people are able to stay injury free, the Commonwealth Games and a final place is completely reachable for us.”
Freckleton has another ambition which he feels would match the success he has gained on the music scene, where he has been described as a cross between rappers Skepta, Kanye West and Childish Gambino.
He grew up in a musical family and plays seven instruments, but still has the sporting itch and says: “I still believe I have a quick four time in me.
“The way the British four set up is at the moment, if I run a low 46, I’m confident I would make a team, whether that’s the Europeans or whatever.
QWhite interesting that. pic.twitter.com/uuk3UUWanK
— K*ren 🇯🇲🏴 (@LemFreck) January 1, 2021
“For me to be able to say ‘my athletics is going the same way as my music’ I think I would need a GB team relay spot for fours. That would be great.”
Freckleton says Wales is equally blessed with talent over the one lap distance. He feels 2022 could be a big year for all of Wales’ sprinters with the European Championships, World Championships and Commonwealths all being held within the space of a matter of weeks.
“If people stay fit, it can still be an incredible year,” he says. “You have got to look at the guys from Wales in the fours as well, they are just as impressive, Owen Smith . . . then you’ve got Joe Brier.
“And then if Dai Greene fancies a run out, the next thing you’ve got is a pretty tasty relay team there as well. So that would be really interesting.”
Interesting is a word which is more than applicable to his music career, which has been going from strength to strength over the past 12 months after years of making music for his own pleasure.
In a recent Instagram interview with BBC Horizons – a scheme delivered by BBC Wales with the Arts Council of Wales to develop new independent, contemporary music – Freckleton said: “At the start of the pandemic, I used music as a way to keep ticking over, to distract myself.
“We knew we were going to drop some stuff after the first EP, which we didn’t expect to do as well.
“It just happened organically, I was writing music because I was just trying to distract myself from the fact we were in a pandemic.
Back on my gass. pic.twitter.com/e9rGyY7ZaV
— K*ren 🇯🇲🏴 (@LemFreck) December 19, 2020
“It got to July and I realised ‘wow we’ve got eight or nine tracks here that could go to an EP, er should I’? Then it was a case of U Gd’s cool, let’s just drop that.
“I know a lot of people will say we had a plan. I did not have a plan, I did not expect it to do as well as it did. I didn’t expect anyone to even listen to it really, except my mum! But it ended up going well.
“It surprises me every time anyone messages me or says anything about it, I’m like: ‘What? You like it? Cool!
It was about to get a whole lot cooler when Freckleton got an email from the BBC saying UGd was going to be played by Huw Stephens.
“I didn’t tell anyone about it for about three days because we were just trying to make sure it wasn’t fake!
“I remember reading it and thinking ‘if this is fake it is the greatest prank I have ever seen’!
“I did actually email them back . . . is this real? Even up until the Sunday when it got played, I still didn’t believe. I was sat there with my dad and I was like ‘there’s still a chance this might not happen and I’ll look really silly’.
“I was at home with my dad and my nan. There was no rock star stuff, there was no champagne, just me, my dad and my nan. Lockdown listening!
“That was the pinnacle of things really. Everyone says being played on Radio One is something I never thought would ever happen. It was incredible.
“I love music and I love making music so much that I had to get over the fact that it didn’t matter if other people didn’t like it. Even if no-one was listening to my stuff, I would still be making tracks because it’s my thing, it’s the thing I enjoy most in the world.”
Comparing his love of music and athletics, the former LTA-ranked tennis player, told Dai Sport: “I think athletics and music are different for me, this is where they differentiate from each other. With athletics I have clear goals and I work towards those goals.
“With music, it’s more about the feel, it’s more about how it makes me feel as an outlet, as a diary if you like.
“All the positives that have happened out of it, I would never, not for a second have thought ‘hey, I am going to be played on Radio 1’, or ‘people are going to listen to my music ‘, so I just want to keep the same energy, the same purpose with it.
“I just want to make sure it makes me happy, that’s the main thing and everything else is a bonus. We are looking at making an album either this year or next year, we’ve got enough music ready.
“I want to perform more and do a lot more live performances because I feel that in my songs there is an energy that people would enjoy live. And yeah, Glastonbury main stage . . . no, I’m joking, I’m joking!
“Life is so unpredictable we don’t know. But as of now I’m just glad I have got the opportunities that I have, and it’s the same with athletics.
“I’m so happy that I can still come back after injury and put out performances like that, which I know I am capable of better, I’m just grateful I’ve got the opportunity.”
As if being a successful musician and aspiring athlete aren’t enough, Freckleton also has a “day job” in the shape of Noctown – his own creative platform through which he releases his own music and videos as well as articles and films, and various content from other creatives.
So, how does he find time for everything? “I am one of those people that when I was younger we had a phase after uni where all I was doing was training and I hated it, I absolutely hated it.
“I know that some people have a different view on this, but I needed something that would break it up.
“You finish training, which is usually really early, and then you sit there and you watch TV for the rest of the day, eat food, make sure you’re recovering etc.
“I drove myself mad, just sitting around, not being able to put my time and energy into stuff. I think, even if athletics was my only job, I’d still be doing other things, 100 per cent.
“I just know that because of the way I am as a human I can’t do just one thing. I just feel uneasy, if that makes sense?
“Also I think it helps with the love of the sport. I love the sport a lot more because it’s not the only thing I do. A lot my passion and a lot of my energy stems from the fact that I have other stuff that is taking my time.
“It helps so much, when I was least happy with my athletics was probably when it was the only thing I wanted to do. It is stressful, it’s hard being a sportsman, especially if you are someone like me who was plagued with injuries.
“The turning point was having other things to do, otherwise I think I would definitely have retired a long time ago.
“When it isn’t the only thing in your life, it becomes bliss, it becomes beautiful and it’s not something that has a pressure on you, which is why I love splitting my time.”
It’s a formula that certainly seems to be hitting the right notes for the multi-talented Freckleton.