WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Almost twelve months since failing to reach the European indoor 800m final, Joe Thomas has wintered well with a national record and now finds himself as an outside medal hope for the global edition next month, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 24-year-old from Cardiff heads into the World indoor Championships in Istanbul a fortnight from now with a genuine medal shot on his senior global championship debut, after enjoying an impressive breakthrough this season.
With his rock-style hair and facial piercings, Thomas could be mistaken for a loud, over-confident athlete, yet the unassuming Welshman has quietly gone about his business this winter with a refreshing air of modesty.
Coached by Arwyn Davies, he has improved his four-lap lifetime best on six occasions during his 2012 indoor campaign, culminating with a fine 1:46.33 Welsh record when placing fourth against a world-class field at the XL Galan meeting in Stockholm last night, which shot him to fifth on the British all-time list.
The Welsh and UK indoor champion revealed:
“The indoor season has been the perfect preparation I hoped for ahead of the Olympics in the summer.
“I set out to try and run the World indoor qualifying standard as early as possible and managed it front-running on my own in the first race of the season, and I've currently run the standard six times – and my latest time was just off my all-time (outdoor) personal best (1:46.20 from 2008).”
On the reason behind his breakthrough this year, Thomas continued:
“I had a clear injury and illness-free winter which has been the first time in three years or so.
“I also slightly increased the focus on the endurance aspect which has left me a lot stronger and fitter - I think this is one of the main factors towards my consistency.”
Having also begun his Olympic year with an outright 1,500m best by twelve seconds with 3:47.55, Thomas is in confident mood ahead of his test in Turkey:
“In the world champs, my main aim was to make the final but with the form I've shown leading into the championships, I'd now like to medal or worse, came come very close,” he explained.
Seventh in the 2010 Commonwealth Games final in New Delhi, Thomas is eager to get more positive major championship experience under his belt before attempting to make the British team for his Olympic debut in London this summer.
Finishing only fifth in the UK outdoor Championships last June, he was forced to miss out on a spot for the global event in South Korea but went on to reach the semi-final stage of the World University Games in China.
Reliving his frustrations which lead to a steep learning curve, Thomas revealed:
“2011 was okay but I didn't get into the races I needed to in order to run fast and the winter leading into the summer didn't go as smooth as I'd have liked with injury and illness.
“The Commonwealth Games the year before was a good experience that I've been able to learn from and build upon - I was happy to make the final and it's left me wanting a lot more.”
With a 47.25 400m best, Thomas evidently has the speed to go with his endurance but once the World indoor Championships are out of the way, he is determined to transfer his form on to the outdoor scene in time for the London Games:
“Hopefully this year I'll be able to regularly get into the races that will allow me to run to my potential,” he explained.
“I'd like to at least run a low-1:45 but hopefully a 1:44 - this will depend on me getting into the good grand prix's that are set up for us to run fast in and I think from my form this indoor season - and if I carry it through in the world champs - I'll get into the best races I need.”
The races above all that he craves to compete in are of course due to be held in the Olympic stadium in Stratford this August and Thomas has the belief that his recent record-breaking form can take him there:
“Like all championships, I'd like to make the final,” he said
“The championships I've done leading up to the Olympics and all I've taken and learnt from them, will all help me get into the best physical and mental state.”