As James Ellington ponders, the silence continues. Defeat is something he has never allowed himself to consider.
His gaze rises skyward, but his focus delves somewhere deeper inside. After all he has been through, surely he could be content without making this summer’s Olympics?
Finally, after 12 seconds, he answers: “No”. Failure is not an option.
This Sunday, Ellington competes properly for the first time in almost five years; an initial step on what he wholeheartedly believes will be one of sport’s greatest ever comebacks.
Yet before he can begin, he must wait for almost two-dozen other 100-metre races inside Dagenham’s Jim Peters Stadium. The first will feature a mix of children and soon-to-be pensioners who, like Ellington, have paid their £11.50 entrance fee to race at a meeting that is open to all. Ages will steadily converge, times will get faster and races will tick by until there is only one left – the best saved for last.
There will be little to mark out the double Olympian in the midst: a man in his club vest, with a pair of cast-off running spikes and a V35 next to his name to betray his age and official veteran status. The gun will go and Ellington will be back. “Glamorous isn’t it,” he says, jokingly.
That he has even reached this point is astonishing. Ellington was in the form of his life when an oncoming car hit the motorcycle he was riding with fellow British sprinter Nigel Levine while at a training camp in Tenerife in January 2017.
His numerous injuries included a compound fracture of the right leg, a fractured left ankle, a fractured eye socket, a displaced and fractured pelvis, and the loss of six pints of blood. He was lucky to be alive and his elite running career was over according to all medical professionals, who said he would never be able to even jog without a limp. Their words were his fuel.
“The worst thing you can do is doubt me,” he tells the Telegraph at his house in west London. “Every milestone in my career is spurred from somebody annoying me or doubting me.
“I’ve always been pretty stubborn and hard-headed when I want to do something. I pretty much won’t stop until it’s done, even down to screwing in a blind in the wall.
“My missus told me to give up with this blind, but I couldn’t. I was there for hours, I wouldn’t let it go. But I finally did it.
“If I know something can be achieved, I can’t give up. That’s my spirit. The motivation probably comes from proving people wrong, proving myself right and doing something that most people don’t believe they can do.
“If you want to get rid of me, just tell me I’m amazing and I’ll probably dissolve.”
A few months after the crash, Ellington posted a video online, below. Top off, he grimaces in severe pain while tumbling out of the wheelchair he was confined to for six weeks, legs totally useless. Slowly, he manoeuvres himself into position and then whacks out 20 press ups. Nothing was going to beat him.
Two years later, he stood on a startline for the first and only time since the accident when he was given a lane at the 2019 London Anniversary Games. Yet to even complete 100m in training at that point, he battled his way through in his own race within the actual race, trailing home almost a second behind the winner in 10.93 seconds.
It was agony – “Every time I hit the floor, it felt like someone was stabbing me up the a—” – and left him barely able to walk for the next fortnight. But he had proven he could still run.
Shorn of funding, sponsorship and any proper income, he then moved to Dubai where his wife worked and began grafting alone. Sometimes the pain would be so bad he would be forced to lie in bed for days.
“It’s like when you have the flu and your body is sore – that’s the pain in my pelvis,” he explains. “My body went through massive trauma and my central nervous system has taken time to recalibrate.”
The pain is still there every day, but he insists “there was no doubt whatsoever in my mind” even at his toughest moments. “Maybe I’ve got mental issues or something,” he says.
Through it all, the Tokyo Olympics was the shining light that kept him going; the one goal to make it all worthwhile.
To all bar Ellington, the thought of him making it is almost incomprehensible. How can someone who has only run the 10.05sec qualifying time once in his life expect to do so again before the British trials at the end of June, while still in pain on a regular basis? “How is me getting to this position from the crash possible?” he counters. “When I crashed it was the first year I had focused on the 100m and I proved to everyone I could be a force to be reckoned with. Had I not crashed I would have run sub-10 seconds a good few times in 2017.
“Psychologically, nobody’s going to have anything on me when we stand on the startline, not one person. And technically, I’m getting better.
“This sounds mad but I don’t believe I have to be 100 per cent to run sub-10. I believe the extra fire I have is going to make up for anything I’m lacking anywhere else. No one’s going to stop me.
“A lot of people say I’ve already achieved so much by coming back to run faster than most people in the world. OK cool, for you that’s OK. For me, it’s not enough. I’m training to come back better than I was before.”
Sunday’s race in east London is the first step. Coming off the back of a heavy training block, he hopes to run somewhere in the region of 10.3sec – the same as his season opener in the 2016 season that included 100m and 200m personal bests, and a trip to the Olympics.
He still has the vest he wore at those Rio Games. But do not expect to see him wearing it.
“Nah man, that’s old news,” he says. “This year I’m going to bust a 2021 Olympic vest.”