WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS.COM
Hitting back against claims that British male endurance-running is at an all-time low, Chris Thompson caused shockwaves throughout European athletics earlier this month, to register the third-fastest 10,000m in British history, Nicola Bamford writes.
For 29-year-old ‘Thommo’, as he is affectionately known in athletics circles, his scintillating 27:29.61 at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in Stanford, USA at the turn of May, has been a long time coming.
His 25-lap track debut; performed in the swiftest time by a Brit since Jon Brown’s 27.18.14 in 1998 and ahead of legends such as Brendan Foster and Dave Bedford was however, a very welcome surprise to all including the man himself.
Thompson revealed: “The result has been something I’ve been searching to do for so long now. I think anyone in any sport will say performing well is so much sweeter when you have come through tough times. I feel that drove me sometimes to think I was trying to do something that was definitely against the odds.
The affable and modest athlete continued: “Time was running out for me to find some consistency in training and that definitely plays on your mind. My confidence, though, over the last six-months has grown and grown; as I kept putting training together that I had never been able to do, in volume, consistency and quality.
A long period of consistent training and healthy body was evidently all that was needed for Thompson’s breakthrough:
“Before, a lot of people questioned my abilities because I could run ok and they would assume that was as good as it was going to get for me. However, you never get to see what goes on behind the racing unless you’re involved. I would say to people ‘just give me time’, but not through their fault, would laugh at me but people around me and myself knew with time, I would be able to jump forward.
I started to get itchy feet wanting to race but I knew I needed more time to build a base for the long-term aims in years to come and get back a lot of what I’ve been missing. I was over the moon with the time. I certainly got overly-emotional about the whole thing, but it has been a long, painful road.”
On his new-found specialist event, Thompson continued: “10,000m is new and I had no idea if I would be strong enough to hold a pace throughout. But to get a result like that makes me feel like a new athlete entering into the sport and ready to press on like I wish I could have done five years ago. Better late than never, maybe even a better age for me to be running well now than before.”
Coached by Mark Rowland in Oregon, USA where he is based for much of the year, Thompson’s sharp progress in the past few months follows a lowly 55th in the European cross-country Championships last December.
Thompson; who last competed for Britain in the 2006 European’s; finishing 10th in his 5,000m heat, improved to seventh in the BUPA Great Edinburgh international cross-country in January and to a 28:02 10km personal best on the roads of Manchester in March, to show he was at last, poised for something special – should he stay injury-free.
It has been the dreaded ‘I-word’ that could have so easily ended Thompson’s career years ago, were it not for his dogged determination:
“I definitely felt like quitting many times,” Thompson explained, “Being in the doctor’s room and being told I needed another six-weeks’ rest can only be tolerated so many times. Sometimes I would be told to cross-train, then cross-training would cause a problem so I aqua jogged –even that caused issues at one point. It was just stop-start all the time.
Never gaining any sort of momentum, I would try to enter every injury with a positive mind-set and try my best to do all I needed to do, but my body just didn’t fancy it. The hardest thing was definitely starting to get going, run ok, race ok, then boom back to nothing again.”
After finally overcoming his injury woes to perform to his potential, Thompson praised the support he received in his second-home over in America: “I would never have been on any start-line if it wasn’t for the team of people keeping me going over the years. I also have a lot to thank my girlfriend Jemma Simpson (GB international 800m runner) for. She has been an amazing support and has been the icing on my cake in running and in my life. She is priceless; I also try to make sure I support her athletics as best I can, we certainly have a good team bond.”
A prolific junior and the 2003 European under23 5,000m Champion over fellow Brit, Mo Farah, Thompson’s potential to be a world-class athlete has never been in doubt – his health, however, was always another matter.
While Farah progressed to compete on the Olympic and World stage and collect European track and cross-country silverware, Thompson’s path took a very different route since their exhilarating contest seven years ago.
Years of injury battles ensued before the Aldershot, Farnham and District runner finally showed what he can do following a spell of uninterrupted training. In a message to Farah; long considered Britain's number one long-distance prospect, Thompson's eye-catching form is the fastest by a European for almost two-years and; as his times leads the rankings, will most certainly establish himself as one of the hot contenders for gold in this summer’s continental championships in Barcelona.
Such a breakthrough could not have come at a better time either; with the European and Commonwealth Games later this year providing a platform to the 2011 World Championships and ultimately, the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Thompson explained his chances: “It (no.3 Brit all-time) is something I feel very privileged to have achieved especially looking at some of the names on the British list. Now I have to put it to the back my mind, because you put yourself in the firing line with regards the Euro rankings.
I have played my hand going into the Euro champs for people to try and match and beat. I have to now go away and make sure I’m in that form again, come game time. I feel like this year I’m giving myself the best chance I can to have a good Euro champs, that’s all you can do, give yourself a shot.”
Thompson is aware of the pressure to now perform on the international stage and remains humble yet ambitious about his new chances and aspirations:
“My goal for 2010’s firmly on the 10,000m at the Euro champs,” Thompson revealed. “I’m not ignoring doubling with the 5,000m but I’ll see what happens as the season unfolds. The Commonwealths is on the radar, too but not a certainty or a must for me.
“With all that’s happened over the last month, I feel like my aims keep changing all time as I feel more and more is possible. I need to keep my feet on the ground with a lot of it. But still a top-eight at 2012 would be amazing.”
Eager not to rest on his laurels and get too carried away, Thompson appears optimistically cautious and grateful, with a new zest for the sport which has treated him so unfairly for years. The love affair, it seems, will not end just yet.
“After 2012 – and I never would have thought I’d hear myself say this - but maybe I’ll try the marathon, who knows. If I’m not injured you never know what’s round the corner. As long as the sport makes me happy I’ll do it, but at some point I’ll have to stop and get a secure job and make a family.
Although this form will be a big challenge to maintain and move on from, it’s a point I never thought I’d get to, so I’ll face it will a smile and be happy to know I made it further than I thought. It’s an opportunity I’ll give one hell of a shot at and be happy when’s it’s all said and done.”