March 26, 2021
By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Veteran Chris Thompson, who turns 40 next month, produced a masterful and highly emotional performance to win the British Olympic Marathon trials in the unusual surroundings of London’s Kew Gardens on Friday to secure his place in Tokyo.
While Thompson punched the air and let out a scream of joy after crossing the line following years of frustration, Steph Davis, still a part-timer, burst into tears after destroying the field and her own personal best to win the women’s race and also qualify only a couple of years after she took up serious training.
An emotional Thompson, who became a father on Monday, said: “I don’t know how I’ve done it -I’m 39 for crying out loud – this doesn’t happen.
“This sounds bad but I knew it with two laps to go and I was trying to control my emotions then.”
In the absence of the usual April London Marathon, the trials were set up to give Britain’s elite a road to Tokyo, and Thompson took full advantage.
In damp, grey conditions on a multi-lap course at Royal Botanic Gardens World Heritage Site, Thompson rolled back the years and showed all his experience as he let a fast-paced lead group of three break clear for more than half the race.
Looking out of it, Thompson instead reeled them in as the pace slowed, then surged clear in emphatic style and by the last lap he was half a minute ahead.
The first two finishers were assured of Olympic selection if they had the qualifying time and Thompson gritted his teeth over the final stages to make sure he was inside it.
When he crossed the line in front of the famous glass Palm House his outpouring of joy was fully understandable. His time of two hours, 10.50 minutes shattered his personal best of 2:11.19 from seven years ago and, all-importantly, was well inside the Olympic qualifying time of 2:11.30.
Ben Connor, who already had the qualifying standard from last year’s London Marathon, finished second in 2:12.06 to also punch his Tokyo ticket alongside Callum Hawkins, pre-selected, who acted as a pacemaker on Friday.
Back in 2010 Thompson won silver over 10,000 metres at the European Athletics Championships, behind Mo Farah. While Farah went on to win multiple world and Olympic titles and amass a personal fortune, Thompson endured a wretched run of injuries as he slipped down the rankings, though he did make the 2012 Olympics in the marathon, finishing 25th.
“Everything fell into place, I was in dreamland” Thompson said. “After 30 minutes I realised I had worked the course out and I realised you can’t keep pressing like this.
“I just entered my own little mind palace and thought ‘this is the rhythm I need’. I feel like someone is going to tell me this didn’t happen.”
While Thompson has been hammering away as a professional athlete for 20 years, Davis is still coming to terms with her elite status, and still works part-time.
She was in a class of her own on Friday as she forged clear to win in 2:27.16, almost three minutes ahead of Natasha Cockram, a 40-second personal best and crucially inside the Olympic standard.
Friday’s event was the first time a one-off trial race had been held for an Olympic marathon since 1980 – the London Marathon has done the job since then.
Officials will hope things turn out a bit better this year, however, as all three British men failed to finish in Moscow, which came four years before women were allowed to race the distance at the Games.
Kew also hosted an early-morning trial for the 20km walk, where Callum Wilkinson said he was “disappointed, gutted and embarrassed” to miss the Olympic qualifying standard of 81 minutes after winning in 82:47.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Toby Davis)