'I never dreamt to get this far, let alone drag the event with me' - Tom Bosworth is ready to take race-walking to the next level
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World record holder Tom Bosworth spoke to Mark Armstrong about carrying the race walking scene and his burning ambition for gold in Tokyo 2020
Picture the scene.
Tom Bosworth, the world’s fastest walker over a mile, is walking as fast as he can on a treadmill next to Nelson’s Journey chief executive Simon Wright as they both try and keep up with the pace Tom produced in setting a world record.
Oh, and as they are doing this, they are watching his performance at the London Anniversary Games on an overhead projector.
By Tom’s own admission, it was bizarre, but the Sportlink Charity challenge perhaps demonstrated how race walking has nudged itself into the public consciousness, thanks largely to Tom’s influence.
Before Christmas Sportlink owner Neil Featherby challenged people to see if they could run a mile on a treadmill faster than Tom can walk it (5:31.08) – only a handful of runners could and those that did certainly knew they had put in an effort.
It was the latest charity venture that has helped provide around £7,500 for Nelson’s Journey and Hallswood Animal Sanctuary and it caught Tom’s attention enough to make a personal visit to the shop from his home in Leeds.
“It wasn’t quite the same as standing on the start line in the London Stadium but it was very surreal watching that moment back whilst training,” said Tom.
“But it’s really lovely to see the challenge that was set using my mile time. Coming down and supporting locals in the community, who have perhaps been inspired by what I’ve done means a lot to me.”
Until Tom came on the scene, race-walking in this country had become an odd event a lot of us would become interested in for an hour or so at an Olympics.
Tom has changed that and is now one of the highest profile members of the British Athletics team.
He is a major medal hope for Team GB at the World Athletics Championships in Doha in October, the timing of which presents its own challenges.
“It’s a bit of an odd season really due to the World Championships being in October,” said Tom, who typically walks between 120-140km each week. “Normally, an Olympics, a Europeans or a Worlds, you have to peak around August. So this is going to be a long year with Olympic preparations beginning immediately after.
“Preparations are going well this year – I’ve just come back from South Africa so I could get away from the cold and really focus on a solid block of work.
“The altitude out there just raises your fitness a lot quicker than it does over here.
“We’ve done three winters there now and I think that’s the best set-up. British Athletics are really supportive – they have everything under the sun there for us – physios, physiologists, doctors plus your team mates and other coaches.
“There is basically everyone from 800m upwards – it’s a really nice environment and you have people bouncing off each other.”
Tom has become the poster boy for the British race walking scene and hopes will be high he can build on his sixth place at the Olympics in Rio and medal in Tokyo.
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“Our last Olympic medal was funnily enough at the Tokyo Olympics so no pressure!” he said. “Now we’ve had a world junior champion in 2016 in Callum Wilkinson and I was sixth in Rio and then got a silver medal at the Commonwealths.
“It’s changing – I don’t see it becoming a massive boom like running but a lot of people use walking for fitness so I definitely feel like walkers can become a bit more well known in the athletics world.
“I think it can move on from ‘what’s this strange event that we don’t know much about?’
“That’s been my aim in my career by accident almost. I never dreamt to get this far, let alone drag the event with me.”
The pressure of carrying an event doesn’t seem to be telling on Tom, whose performances have moved on since Rio, as demonstrated by his one-mile world record and medal at the Commonwealths.
“My times have definitely moved on since Rio,” said Tom, who also runs once or twice a week as part of his training (slightly quicker than he can walk).
“My PB now equates to what would have been bronze in Rio so that’s exciting.
“It shows that I’ve got the speed and the ability. I did well at the Commonwealth Games as well so I showed that I can perform at a major championships.
“But at the end of the day it’s one day a year – you have to hit it right. You need things to fall into place.”
Every runner will be able to identify with some of the physical pain you experience during races when you are pushing hard but it is perhaps that ability to handle that hurt, which sets the elite apart.
“It’s hard to block out the pain in a race and listening to your body is key,” added Tom, who won the 5,000m race the British Indoor Championships earlier this month.
“You look at Callum Hawkins in the marathon on the Gold Coast. I guess he was almost not able to listen to his body enough so I guess there are also athletes that listen to their bodies and the pain is too much.
“These messages are coming because ultimately you are hurting yourself. In elite sport you do have to go into that danger zone a little bit.
“I try and judge each race – if it’s very early on then I maybe need to question what I’m doing, question whether I have gone out too hard or am I injured?
“If it’s later on in a race and I know I’ve only got a few kilometres to go then I think this is what I’ve trained for – how much do you want it to hurt? This pain is probably going to last for another 12 minutes, the pain of not winning a medal is going to last a lot longer than that.”