IF Sam Ricketts appears to have an extra spring in his step these days it’s not just because he is in a rush to make up for lost time.

The Wales international has returned to Wanderers’ Premiership survival mission determined to pick up where he left off last February, when he was stopped in his tracks by an Achilles tendon injury.

And he reckons he is faster, stronger and fitter thanks to months of tuition from experts preparing Great Britain’s athletics squad for this summer’s Olympics.

He has even made new friends in sprint stars Marlon Devonish, Christian Malcolm and Dwain Chambers and the long jump prospect Greg Rutherford.

But the men the Bolton full-back is most grateful to are UK Athletics’ coaching guru Dan Pfaff and performance therapist Gerry Ramogida who, in tandem with the Wanderers’ backroom staff, have helped him through his lengthy lay-off.

They have taught him to take a wider view to fitness and, he believes, imparted advice that could make the difference between success and failure in the Premier League.

“In athletics a tenth of a second means you either win the 100metres or you come in fifth,” he said. “In football it’s the same, the most minute detail can make a difference.

“You can hit the post early in a game, but if it goes in all of a sudden the game is easier.

“It’s minute things like that that have cost us.”

Ricketts – four games into his first-team comeback – is a big Olympics fan. He’s got tickets for a couple of this summer’s events and is hoping his new athletics connections can get him more – with tickets for Wanderers games in return.

And the time spent with some of the nation’s top athletes even caused him to wonder what might have been if he had chosen that particular path when he competed at county level for Buckinghamshire Schoolboys, specialising in the long jump and the 400m.

“I was never good enough to reach the top level,” he admits, although he proudly points out that he held a schools long jump record of just under six metres at the age of 15.

Nevertheless, he was confident enough to throw down the gauntlet to his new training buddies (“I’ve challenged Dwain to 100m but he’s declined me as yet”) while picking up tips he hopes will help improve his game and Wanderers’ fortunes.

“Athletics is at the cutting edge of every aspect of physical performance,” he said.

“On and off I spent a couple of days a week down in London with them from July until I came back playing and I’ve come back fitter, stronger and faster than I ever was before.

“I have separate warm-ups that I do before every day’s training, I’ve got different circuits I do for my whole body and not just for my Achilles. I just have a different outlook now. I’ve slightly changed my running style, although that’s hard because I’m 30 years old now so I can’t really change the way I’ve run all my career. But I can change slightly, to make me a little bit quicker, and I do different power weights.

“I’ve learned a lot more about nutrition, too, so I’m on shakes every day to try to get the nutrients back into my body.

“They are all minute details which obviously build up and might help when you are in a sport that is defined by so little.”

Things changed dramatically for Wanderers between Ricketts being stretchered off in the FA Cup tie at Wigan last February and his return in the home draw with Wolves on New Year’s Eve.

But, inspired by his time with UK Athletics, he believes it would not take a great deal to improve Bolton’s position.

“We did so well last year up until the last few weeks of the season,” he recalled. “But it shows the margins are so fine in the Premier League and you can’t relent in any way shape or form.”

Ricketts missed big games during his lay-off – the Wales-England Euro 2012 duels and Wanderers’ FA Cup semi-final – so he is determined to enjoy his return to the Premier League, even though the matches are some of the toughest – Manchester United last week, Liverpool today.

“As a player you want to test yourself against the best and these are some of the biggest clubs in the world,” he said.

“It’s Liverpool next and people say they are playing better away from home than they are at home, and Gerrard’s back for them now. But I think we’ve turned a bit of a corner ourselves in the last five or six games. The results have been better and the performances have reflected that.”