Saturday, 08 July 2017 09:25

Anniversary Games - Tom Bosworth wants to make a race walking spectacle at London World championships

Written by Connor Craig-Jackson
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An eighth consecutive victory and national record for Tom Bosworth in the British Championships 5000m race-walk showed hugely positive signs, not just for the Olympic finalist but for race-walking in general.

After years of being virtually the sole figure in the discipline, two races in the space of two hours at the Alexander Stadium have now set the sport on fire ahead of the London World Championships in August.

Under 20 World Champion Callum Wilkinson and Welsh walker Bethan Davies both played their own part in burying the previous British 5000m records for good, signifying that the long-awaited glory days of British race-walking could well be fast approaching.

“For a long time now I’ve been out at the front in races,” says Tom “and at the British Champs I have always thought ‘OK I’m going to come here and I don’t really need to concentrate I just need to go out, enjoy it and put on a show for the fans and help them realise race-walking is part of track and field.

“But now I’m mega proud of where the event is now going and I feel like I can take some pride that I’ve had a hand in that and I know now I’ve got to go even faster to keep winning and that’s what it’s about rather than just me running on the track on my own pretty much.”

Standards have certainly catapulted since the national race-walking centre in Leeds was opened by Andy Drake in 2009 and Bosworth has been there from the start, describing it as “a bit of a mess” when it opened.

Fast-forward to the present and many new athletes have entered the frame and swiftly been transformed into world class competitors, with 20-year-old Wilkinson starting in 2012 and British Indoor champion Gemma Bridge making an almost instant impact since moving to the Leeds centre in the 2016 winter season.

New 5000m women’s record holder Davies will also compete on the world stage for the first time ever, with her performance at the British Championships seeing her make the trip to London in the form of her life.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to have made that,” says Davies, “especially after last year just missing out on Rio and coming so close, but now I’m just really looking forward to it.

“I’ve ran three races this week (of the British Championships) and I’ve PB’d every single one, so that’s been fantastic for me going forward to the championships.”

Despite its growing momentum, race-walking still has some barriers to break, with many including Bosworth acknowledging the 50 kilometre race may be holding it back slightly due to the lack of a female equivalent at the major championships.

As a divided issue there are no easy answers, but Bosworth is confident that the discipline can always adjust in order to meet the needs of fans and governing bodies despite the difficulties.

“If the 50km goes then it’s going to be tough for a lot of athletes,” he says, “it’d be like saying ‘you can’t run the marathon any more you’ve got to run the 10,000m now’, so a lot of them wouldn’t qualify and they’re out of a job. “But I think all of athletics is having to develop over the next few years and changes are going to have to be made. I want to work with everybody, I want to put on a show and I definitely think that there’s a bright future for race-walking.”

Now with the London Anniversary Games fast approaching, the chance to showcase race-walking has never been bigger, with the top names from across the sport set to be there in front of a packed Olympic stadium to take each other on in the slightly rare mile race.

“We want to put on a show,” says Bosworth, “that’s the reason we’re doing it, we want to go fast and we want to be technically good.

“As walkers and as athletes we want to be flexible and prove it won’t hinder our training, we just want to come down, do it and then go back off to altitude or wherever and again that shows that we want to accommodate these sorts of events that are shown on telly and that bring in big crowds.

“I definitely went through the first mile of the British Championships in six minutes flat and 5.58 is the British record so that shows good signs for the Anniversary Games and what I can do there.”

The progression of race-walking is therefore a huge passion of Bosworth’s, however the personal targets are still very much a huge priority for the Olympic finalist looking ahead to London.

While the rest of British race-walking has progressed massively he still remains the main man and his performance at the Rio Olympics has been a huge game changer for him ahead of the World Championships.

“Sixth at Rio was a complete surprise I can tell you that much,” says Bosworth “I was ranked 37th before the final but I just got in great shape up at altitude so I thought ‘I’m just going to take this on and see what happens’.

“So now there’s that pressure and this year I’ve had a few IAAF podiums so certainly I’ve been up there around the best in the world and it shows that it wasn’t a fluke.

“With a British crowd this time who knows what I can achieve, but I just want to back up what I did before, a top eight again would be just amazing so I just want to be in that shape where I can be with the leaders until the end so who knows what’s going to happen there.”

Exciting times are certainly ahead for race-walking in Britain and even Bosworth himself does not expect to be the man to beat for very much longer.

For him, however, this can only be a good thing in ensuring that with more hard work and dedication, the discipline can continue to push boundaries and inspire audiences around the world.

Playlist of races from British Athletics Championships 2017



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