Chris Thompson and Steph Davies produced personal best performances on their way to securing their marathon spots for Tokyo at the Müller British Athletics Marathon and 20km Walk Trial at Kew Gardens.
Ben Connor also secured his place with a second spot in the men’s marathon, while Tom Bosworth sealed his second Olympic Games spot with a similar second-place finish in the men’s 20km race walk.
In the men’s marathon race Chris Thompson ran a perfectly judged race, staying off the mid-race pace and at one point languishing 35 seconds behind the lead group of Dewi Griffiths, Ben Connor, and Mo Aadan who were being led by the top-class pacing duo of Callum Hawkins and Jake Smith.
Yet it was after the departure of the pace athletes, in between 30k and 35k when the evenly judged run by Thompson began to reap dividends. Reunited with the leading group at 35k, he then pushed on to establish a gap on Connor and Aadan, taking the bell for the final lap at 2:00.30.
The 39-year-old looked almost incredulous to be finding himself with a significant lead as he circled Kew Gardens, running well inside his previous marathon best and more importantly, inside the qualifying time for Tokyo, and he crossed the line in 2:10.50.
Thompson, who became a Dad earlier this week, said: “This week has just knocked me for six. I have been trying to hold it together and I have just never felt so much emotion in all my life and I have always controlled it.
“I just said don’t cramp on that last lap, because everything fell into place in the last couple of laps. After 30mins I released, I worked the course out and worked out you can’t keep pushing like this, the turns and everything was just building up and I thought I need to check back because these guys need to be in really good shape to keep this going. I checked back and I just thought, an hour and a half, I have either messed this up royally or its going to turn around very quickly. I kept saying to myself, stay on course for the time and see what happens. I was in dreamland, the last to laps I was like ‘I am going’, nothing is stopping me now.
“This sounds bad, but I knew I had it with two laps to go, and I was starting to control my emotions then because I knew I had timed it right. I entered my own little mind palace of ‘this is just the rhythm I need for me’. If they stay gone, then good luck to them, just execute my own race and the other thing I kept telling myself, was just stay inside the time and you still have a chance.”
He added, “To be honest at one-point, worst case scenario, if you are the third Brit with the time, you still have got a chance. Or fourth brit, because I think three ahead, but they came back to me very quickly once the pacemakers dropped out. I was running on cloud nine, the last two laps just…I feel like someone is going to tell me this didn’t happen. Seriously, I am 39! This doesn’t happen, last night my wife said, ‘finish it off’ and in my head I thought I am going to leave everything out there. I thought if we pull this off, I don’t know how we have done it. This is not like me.
“My new baby is called Theo and he has a lot to live up to. He has got a two-time Olympian dad!”
In second place and securing the second automatic slot having previously achieved the qualifying time, Ben Connor finished in 2:12.06, 14 seconds ahead of marathon debutant Mo Aadan who ran an admirable first 26.2 mile distance finishing in 2:12.20 for third.
Connor added: “I am delighted, obviously I would have liked the win but delighted to have secured the spot. Job done, rest and recover now, get to do it all again in five months.
“I came into it as a race more than anything, as I didn’t have to worry about the time, so I literally just had to finish in the top two. Obviously, I came into win it anyway, so I wasn’t keeping an eye on the watch or anything, but I didn’t know what we were going through halfway, but I knew it was quick. Thommo (Thompson) obviously paced it a lot better. He decided to drop off a little bit but then come through stronger and the run the pace the whole race. Smart racing from him. Glad to hang on myself at the end.
“It hasn’t quite sunk in that I am going to Tokyo yet, but I am sure it will do. I will have a bottle of wine tonight and let it sink in and enjoy it. Be nice if we could go to the pub but I will have to wait a couple of weeks to celebrate.”
In the women’s race Steph Davies (Phillip Kissi) put on a superlative performance to dominate after starting to split away from the field having passed halfway in 74.06. She pushed on with the pacing team recording an impressive negative second half split of 73.10, eventually crossing the line in 2:27.16 – a PB by 24 seconds and 2 mins and 14 secs inside the Tokyo qualifying mark.
It was a bittersweet second for Natasha Cockram (Tony Houchin), whose 2:30.03 was some 43 seconds outside of the qualifying time but it was an impressive PB by some 46 seconds. Completing a hat trick of personal best performances, third spot went to Rosie Edwards (Robert Hawkins) in 2:31.56 – almost nine minutes inside her previous best performance over the marathon distance.
“Anything can happen in the marathon, you can’t just know that this is going to be your day”, said Davis, adding, “It was an amazing event today, flat course, the corners were fine, and I am really happy to take the win and secure that spot and a small PB.”
“Phil (Kissi) and I work very closely as a team, I think I am a bit different to other marathon runners he’s coached before. I don’t do the high mileage, it’s just something I have never done. I do a lot of cross training but with Covid and the gyms being closed, I had to train at home. Doing 6/7 hours on the bike a week, and then my average was about 60/65miles through the week. So, the focus was on the big quality sessions and its always worked for us. We kind of replicated what I did for Valencia, and apart from Phil throwing in some extra-long hard sessions to test me and push me to that next level, that’s really helped to get me there and get me here today with that result.”
Callum Wilkinson (Rob Heffernan; Enfield and Haringey) stormed to an overwhelming victory in the men’s 20km race walk trial. Almost immediately at the 6am start, Wilkinson was out on his own in an attempt to get the 81:00 Olympic qualifier and was on target at 5km but out on his own in the breezy and damp conditions he fell just over a minute short with a time of 82:47 and won the British title in the process.
While Wilkinson’s Tokyo appearance is dependent on a future qualifying time, Tom Bosworth already had the time and by finishing second he confirmed his place on the team for Tokyo. Bosworth was second in 86:24 with Guy Thomas (Verity Snook; Tonbridge) third in 90:19.
Bosworth added: “Today’s race was not really a race for me, it was really really tough. I have suffered with an injury over the last month, but you know, I have qualified for my second Olympic games, I’m on the plane.
“The winter has gone really well, and then about a month ago I suffered a reoccurrence in my lower back of an injury that I had two years ago, which makes moving pretty painful. So, getting through 20k is not easy, even when you are fit, let alone when you are struggling but I knew that was going to be the case. From about 5k in, I was in quite a lot of discomfort and it just got worse and worse. It was just managing the race, I’m experienced enough now, I knew that if I finished first or second, I’d be going to the Games.
The women’s race was a clear victory for Heather Lewis (Martin Bell; Pembrokeshire). After building up a short early lead on the first 5km she was overtaken by Gemma Bridge (Mark Wall), but the Oxford City athlete was disqualified and that left the Welsh athlete out on her own, falling short of the 91:00 qualifying time but is hopeful of another opportunity.
She recorded a time of 94:49 with Bethan Davies (Andi Drake; Cardiff) taking second in 97:04 while Erika Kelly (Tom Craggs; Northern) sealed bronze in 1:46.31.