Switzerland's 'Babyface Killer' Spitz is a man on a mission

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  • Switzerland's 'Babyface Killer' Spitz is a man on a mission

He playfully describes himself as a 'Babyface Killer' on social media, but there is a ring of truth to Lionel Spitz’s self-deprecating humour. 

The Swiss 400m runner with the youthful features is ‘killing it’ on the track in 2023, winning silver at the Espoo 2023 European Athletics U23 Championships, taking chunks off his personal bests and running some eye-catching and record-breaking 4x400m relays.    

“Many people are telling me (that) when they see me ‘You look much younger. How old are you? 22? Whoa, I was thinking you were 16.’ So, we created ‘babyface.’ It was my idea and now I hope I can make people laugh with it,” says Spitz on the creation of the moniker.

But don’t be fooled by the boyish looks, Spitz’s performances on the international stage demonstrate a real maturity. Last year, he took nearly a second off his personal best, lowering it to 45.46 on his way to reaching the 400m final at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships, where he placed a creditable 7th.

Huge progress in 2023 and national records in Silesia and Espoo

This year, he took European U23 silver in Espoo, Finland with a new personal best of 45.17 despite the pouring rain. 

He also produced some storming relay legs in the men’s 4x400m. He ran a split of 44.61 in the semifinal to take Switzerland from 6th to 1st on the anchor leg. In the final, he again produced a sublime fourth leg, this time 44.54, but with too much to make up to trouble the podium, setting for a new national U23 record of 3:05.51.

It added a second record to Spitz’s collection, having ran the first leg for Switzerland in the mixed 4x400m at the Silesia 2023 European Athletics Team Championships the previous week which resulted in a new national record of 3:14.22. Earlier in the year, Spitz also lowered his 200m best to 20.96, an improvement of 0.79 in a single year, hinting at more speed yet to come.

“It was an amazing week and amazing few days for me,” he said in the aftermath of Espoo. “It was my goal from the start of the year to perform at this event. I’m so happy that I did it now. The day I started my first race here (in Espoo), I knew it would be something big. I felt excellent.”

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Success inspired by a home championships

The catalyst of his success was being inspired by his country hosting a major event. “It was 2014, we had a home European Athletics Championships in Zurich and my goal to compete at this level started there. I’m not the only guy who was thinking about that, but here we are,” he smiled.

But it didn’t come easy for Spitz. “I did a bit of track and field in my childhood as well, but I was very bad actually, I never made it to a national finals at junior level,” he admits. 

“But when I was 15, I really improved my PB at 600 metres by about 15 seconds in one year. And then my interest got even higher, and I started to get better every year. There is no year in my life where I have not made progression. So even this year I got faster, and I hope I can continue that forever,” he laughs.

He also has the reassuring presence of several other Swiss sprinters making a big impact on the international scene, including world indoor and European gold medallist Mujinga Kambundji and her sister Ditaji, European 100m hurdles bronze medallist, European 400m silver medallist Ricky Petrucciani and European indoor gold medallist Ajla Del Ponte.

“It’s very nice to have a strong team at every event. Switzerland is really improving itself as a sprint nation and I am just happy to be a part of it,” he says.

Spitz has his eyes set on the future

Another characteristic which distinguishes Spitz on the track is his wearing of glasses, eschewing contact lenses which some other athletes use. and placing him alongside the likes of Kristjan Čeh as one of only a handful of top athletes using eyewear while in action.

"I have needed reading glasses lifelong,” he says. “I needed them from age five. Every training (session) even as a child has been with glasses, and I feel so comfortable with them I can’t look in the mirror without them. I try to continue with glasses as long as possible.”

The bespectacled sprinter certainly has a clear focus on his future direction on and off the track.

“I did an apprenticeship in business economics, I took my exams and got approved. But now I am a full-time athlete,” he says. “I took this step one year ago. I have my plan B, it’s in my pocket and now I can focus on running.

“The Olympic Games are in my eyes. I want to run a national record and I want to dominate in Europe. I want to get the best out of myself, that’s always my goal and to continue to get better and progress as long as possible.” 

Babyfaced he might be, but Spitz is very much a man on a mission.

Chris Broadbent for European Athletics

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