WRITTEN FOR TEAM 2012 VISA (ON FEB 10TH)
It had taken seven frustrating years to return to international glory but now, injury-free and with an un-removable smile on his face, Chris Thompson is here to stay and eager to make up for lost time, writes Nicola Bamford.
After claiming continental junior 5,000m gold in 2003, ‘Thommo’ as he is affectionately known in athletic circles, endured years of injury hell and missed the majority of the 2007 and 2008 seasons through a string of problems.
A weaker man would have retired long ago but the 29-year-old refused to give up on the sport he loved and after persisting for so long, he finally got his wish – a return to the medals podium on the international stage.
It seemed only a solid period of consistent training and health was needed for his breakthrough and the eight-time UK middle-distance medallist picked a fine year to time his comeback – just two years out from the London Olympic Games, where he may
just receive the greatest ‘welcome back’ gift of all.
“Last summer was an amazing few months, a time I'll never forget,” Thompson explained.
“When you're so close to losing being part of the sport and then to pull it around with the support of some amazing people, just makes it all feel so amazing to succeed and beat tough situations.
I don't think I have stopped smiling since the summer started and don't think I ever will. I am certainly running with a spring in my step now knowing that anything could be possible after the summer I had.”
Indeed, Thompson’s 2010 track campaign included three lifetime bests and the European 10,000m silver-medal behind Mo Farah, in a glorious one-two for Great Britain in Barcelona last July.
Other highlights for the outgoing athlete were storming to fourth on the British all-time lists with 27:29.61 on his 10,000m debut in the USA back in May, taking the UK 5,000m title, finishing eighth in the 5,000m behind Farah again in Spain and placing fifth and eighth in the 5,000m and 10,000m, respectively, at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last October.
It was a stunning and memorable summer but Thompson is determined to progress further now that he is back in his grove.
Based in Oregon, USA for much of the year with his coach Mark Rowland and girlfriend and training partner Jemma Simpson, the international 800m runner, Thompson is currently training in Australia ahead of his 2011 season opener in May.
“I have started to put some good weeks of base together and I am starting to roll nicely now,” he revealed.
“Training had a slow start to the winter after picking up a small niggle but this did mean I was given the chance to co-commentate at the Bupa Great Edinburgh international cross-country race with Steve Cram and Brendon Foster on TV, as I had to pull out of the race.
I was sitting in the commentary box just smiling thinking ‘how the hell have I ended up here?’ - little old me, crazy.”
Guided by John Nuthall when staying at his Loughborough base, Thompson is used to the unexpected after finally turning his career around after so many disappointments:
“I had many injuries, ranging from stress fractures, to torn muscles, Achilles injuries, knee damage, torn back, hip ligament inflammation to name a few,” he explained.
“All I can say is I have had on/off problems for six years which meant I couldn't put more than a couple of months training together.
It's like anything in life that you find difficultly with and have to really work for - you have to be really positive and work so hard that it makes success at the end of it such an amazing feeling, especially when you don't know for sure it will ever come.
I think a lot of people found it very odd how much I kept trying and almost started to think I just wasn't good enough, but I just couldn't stop - I had to make it happen because I felt I and people close knew if given the chance, I could produce.
Despite all that belief to actually achieve, so much now blows my mind and I’ll forever feel grateful and humble to the help and support I had to make it all possible.”
With a story similar to that of a Hollywood film, Thompson’s experience of a mix of emotions and uphill battles has inevitably created an athlete who is deservedly destined for an eventful climax.
With the 2012 Olympics less than a year and a half away, the Nike runner finds himself in the form of a potential finalist – but if he keeps on improving as he settles back into the sport, he may well be in medal shape a year from now.
Inspired by his rival and long-time friend, Farah, Thompson is aiming for further improvements in 2011 and beyond:
“I feel like right now we (Team GB) have a great bunch of athletes as people and as talent. As people like Mo push boundaries, it only helps fellow athletes to look further down the road,” revealed Thompson.
“I definitely think there is a lot to be said for having the mentality of 'this is possible because I've seen it done'. You run with more freedom and with more belief.
Especially when your around those athletes doing it. It's like we have an Olympics coming up to be inspired by or something!”
In a key year before his ultimate test, Thompson plans to make an impact at this August’s World championships in Daegu, South Korea, where he hopes to compete with the mighty Africans:
“This year, I mainly plan to try and match last year so I can consolidate my progress so far,” he explained.
“I hope to make the World champs to start gaining experience for next year also.
After 2012, I have some thoughts but as things have already done, they can change a lot depending on how things are going - I don't plan on stopping there for sure.”
With a new lease of life in his second chance in the sport, the refreshed Thommo certainly is on a roll and back from the brink.