Marathon legend watched British Olympic trials unfold during a cross-training session and was left inspired by the performances
Paula Radcliffe’s early memories of Chris Thompson involve him dive-bombing into a swimming pool with Mo Farah at the World Cross Country Championships in Portugal 21 years ago. On Friday, though, she says he produced a “mature and sensible” performance to win the British Olympic marathon trials at Kew Gardens.
Radcliffe watched the event unfold on the live stream while knocking out a cross-training session at home in Monaco. She found the races inspirational and was particularly pleased for her former GB cross-country team-mate Thompson, who stormed to an emotional victory aged 39 and just days after becoming a father for the first time.
“I’m so, so happy for him as there have been many ups and downs with injuries and I think he knew now this was his last chance,” she says. “Maybe the baby arriving in the week helped take the pressure off him a little bit. But he’s had things against him in this build up, so for things to come together was great.”
Radcliffe, who held the world marathon record for many years with 2:15:25, added: “For Thommo – and I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this – but it was a mature and balanced and sensible way to run the race. He knew what pace he could run and he stuck to it and he was so rewarded for that and he just looked like he was getting bouncier with every step in the closing stages.”
Some of Thompson’s early international appearances were at the World Cross Country Championships and in the same GB team as Radcliffe. Aged 17, he was 46th in the under-20 men’s race in Marrakech in 1998. The following year he was just outside the top 100 in the mud of Belfast. Then, in 1999 in Vilamoura, he was 41st.
Farah was 25th at that Vilamoura event, whereas Radcliffe was just outside the medals in the senior women’s races. And Radcliffe remembers in 2000: “Both himself and Mo were dive bombing in the pool and upsetting all the holidaying people.”
Halfway through the trials race on Friday, however, like everyone else Radcliffe thought Thompson’s hopes had vanished. “I was disappointed and sad for him when I saw he was getting dropped early on,” she says.
“I know with Thommo he’s always going to give it 100% but at the same time if he’d had an injury or niggle in the build up then it wasn’t going to come right for him no matter how hard he wants it to or how hard he’s prepared to push. So I thought ‘something’s gone wrong and he’s not able to stay with it’.
“Then about halfway when Mara (Yamauchi) and Tim (Hutchings) gave the splits, he was only 35 seconds behind and I thought ‘he’s absolutely still in it’. It’s a gap that wasn’t growing on a loop course like that there were going to be a lot of people feeding him information. If he was starting to pull them back, too, then it would work psychologically in his favour and put a spring in his step.
“Then it was just brilliant to see him suddenly leading it. We missed a huge part of the race when he re-joined the leaders, which was a shame, but generally the coverage was great and that people were able to see lots of the race.”
Thompson’s triumph had the feel-good factor and was later shown on BBC’s evening news, whereas clips of his final victorious few metres went viral on social media.
“The whole rest of the day it put you in a good mood,” Radcliffe says. “I actually did quite a good session (on the cross-trainer) because it inspired me.
“It’s refreshing that even after the last year with Covid and everything that’s happened with events not being able to go ahead, the power of sport and a story like that shows athletics is very much alive. He’s a popular guy and has been around a long time.”
Radcliffe has not met the women’s winner, Steph Davis, before but says: “I knew she’d had that good run in Valencia (2019) and that she was probably the favourite coming into this. She looked really strong and has more to come again. Between the two races I think any doubts about the speed of the course were wrong.”
The 2005 world marathon champion now believes Britain will have strong teams for Tokyo but says: “You have to feel for Jonny Mellor and it must have been very hard for him to watch at home.”
The unlucky Mellor ran faster than Thompson’s trials time on two occasions last year with 2:10:03 in Seville and 2:10:38 in London. But after an ankle injury ruled him out of the trials, the Olympic places will now go to trials one-two Thompson and Ben Connor plus pre-selected Callum Hawkins.
Radcliffe’s advice to the British Olympic hopes? “There’s plenty of time to take a good break now and I think that’s really important. And factoring in some kind of heat adaptation is very important.”
On the trials generally, Radcliffe adds: “It all came together really well and I hope Tom Bedford is proud of himself because he did a really good job for the athletes and then the athletes took the initiative and took advantage of it and raced well too.”