Superb run books a ticket to Tokyo for 39-year-old new father as Ben Connor also clinches his place
An already memorable week got even more special for Chris Thompson as the new father produced an astonishing performance to win the British Athletics Olympic Marathon Trials at Kew Gardens and book his place for Tokyo.
The 39-year-old, who had been part of the leading group during the opening stages, looked to have fallen out of the running not long after the 15km mark but had instead opted to follow his own plan and bide his time.
A beautifully paced run saw him execute the perfect race as he reeled in – and then overtook – Ben Connor, Mo Aadan and Dewi Griffiths in the closing stages.
Thompson stormed away to hit the tape in a personal best of 2:10:52, well inside the qualifying time of 2:11:30, and will now make an Olympic appearance for the first time since competing in the 10,000m at London 2012.
Connor, who already had the marathon qualifying standard, also booked his ticket to Tokyo as he came second in 2:12:06 and completes the men’s Olympic trio, with Callum Hawkins pre-selected. In third, Aadan clocked 2:12:20 on his marathon debut.
Thompson’s run over the lapped course was made all the more remarkable by the fact that, on Monday, his wife Jemma Simpson, who went to Olympics as an 800m runner and is a former UK champion, gave birth to baby Theo.
His race looked as if it may have been run when he was cut adrift from Connor, Griffiths and Aadan in those earlier stages. Those three appeared to be in total control between around 15km and 35km, before the picture changed rapidly and radically.
“I’ve never felt so much emotion in my life,” said Thompson. “It was an atomic bomb of emotion. Everything fell into place in the last couple of laps. After 30 minutes I’d worked the course out and I realised that those guys had to be in very, very good shape to keep that pace going.
“After an hour-and-a-half I thought ‘I’ve either messed this up royally or it’s going to turn around very quickly’. For the last two laps I was in dreamland. I feel like someone is going to tell me this didn’t happen.”
It may take a while to sink in for Thompson, but it most certainly did happen.
The pacemaking duo of Hawkins and Jake Smith had taken the four-strong leading group through the opening 10km in 30:51, while the halfway split of 64:45 had put them on schedule to finish two minutes inside the qualifying standard.
Griffiths, Connor and Aadan were sticking closely together and seemingly very much at ease. But despite them still being firmly on course for the standard, the pace began to gradually drop and Thompson saw an opportunity opening up in front of him.
As first Smith (around 29km) and then Hawkins (around 30km) ended their pacemaking duties, it looked like the race was winding up for a three-way fight to the line. And so it proved – it was just that the identity of the trio was about to change.
Thompson had made contact with the front and, as he did so, injected a little pace to test how the others might respond. Griffiths immediately dropped off, while Connor and Aadan couldn’t go with him.
By the time he hit the bell, Thompson had built up a commanding lead and, despite a couple of anxious looks at the watch, the mission had been well and truly accomplished.
He roared with delight as he broke the tape.
“I needed everything today,” said Thompson, whose previous marathon best had come when he ran 2:11:19 at the 2014 London Marathon. “I needed the time. I needed the position, I needed to execute. I had to get to the line in one piece. It just had everything.
“At my previous Olympics, it was a slightly different scenario of making in the team. This was the first time I’ve experienced everything on the day in conjunction with so many other things going on in my life.
“I couldn’t have had any more distraction this last few weeks. I’m just on Cloud Nine and struggling to comprehend that we’ve done it. And I’m just really exhausted.”
As for baby Theo, Thompson beamed: “He’s got a two-time Olympian for a dad.”
With the pressure off for Connor in terms of running the necessary time, he was also able to enjoy the occasion and can now look forward to an Olympic debut.
Griffiths ultimately had to settle for fourth place, in 2:13:42, with fellow Welshman Josh Griffiths met the Commonwealth Games standard with 2:15:08 in fifth place.
Scotland’s 2018 bronze medallist Robbie Simpson was just outside of the Birmingham 2022 qualifying time with his run of 2:15:26 in sixth, while M40 Andy Davies clocked 2:15:50 for seventh and M45 Ian Leitch 2:17:26 for ninth spot and a PB and British age-group record.
It was the M35 category winner who created the major headlines, though.