Tomorrow sees the British Athletics Olympics Race Walk Trials, with races kicking off at 06:00. As its name suggests, the races offer an opportunity for athletes to secure an Olympic spot, but also presents an opportunity to secure a qualifying standard for next year’s home Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
It is a fairly straightforward process in terms of booking a spot for the Olympics. The first two placed eligible athletes in each event, who hold an Olympic qualifying standard, will earn automatic selection.
COVID-19 tests permitting, nine men will start the race and be looking forward towards the 1:21:00 qualifying time. For the seven women, the time to beat is 1:31:00. Only Tom Bosworth holds the qualifier so far. For context, no other British man has gone sub-1:21:00, and only one women has bettered 1:31:00 (Johanna Atkinson a decade ago).
Let me now run you through the 16 athletes who will be competing in less than 24 hours time.
PB: 79:38 (2018)
Most Recent: 83:56, Portuguese National Championships, December 2020
For anyone who knows even the smallest bit about race walking, I feel Tom Bosworth does not really need an introduction. I could list out an almighty number of statistics, records and achievements associated with Tom that could fill this entire article. I shall try and pick out some of the highlights.
Tom is holder of three World Bests (1 Mile, 3000m and 3000m indoor), alongside the British record holder at every distance from the mile to 20km. By my count, the Leeds athlete has walked at eight major championships, including one Olympics, three World Championships, two Commonwealth Games and two European Championships. He has finished in the top 8 at least once at each of these, including taking silver at the 2018 Commonwealths.
As the British Record holder, he is naturally the fastest in the field. In fact, his five best performances at the distance are all faster than second on the AT list, Callum Wilkinson.
However, the lead in to tomorrow’s race has not been an easy one, as Tom told me; “the build up has been really difficult and still a long walk off my best, due to a neural injury suffered back at the end of February”.
Despite injury setbacks, Tom’s goal firmly remains as securing a spot at his second Olympics with a top two finish.
How will he spend his time the day before the race? Apart from travelling down to London and pre-race treatment, it will include “some chilled music and mentally visualising the race plan”.
Hopefully that race plan will come off.
PB: 81:21 (2020)
Most Recent: 81:21, International Race Walking Festival (Lithuania), September 2020
If Tom Bosworth is the longstanding name of men’s race walking in Britain, then Callum Wilkinson is definitely its rising star. Indeed, Callum holds a flurry of National Records in the junior age categories, and in becoming World Junior Champion over 10,000m in Bydgoszcz in 2016, he became the first Brit to become a World Champion in any walking event for over half a century, since Ken Matthews at the 1964 Olympics in, you guessed it, Tokyo. Coincidence of a venue?
Callum’s 81:21, walked in Lithuania in 2019, puts him second on the British all-time list and just 21 seconds shy of an Olympic qualifier. Working under the guidance of 2013 World Champion and Olympic bronze medallist Robert Heffernan, he is clearly in good shape, demonstrated with a 39:05.85 National Record over 10,000m on the track three weeks ago.
Was this a good boost just 20 days before the trials?
Yes, and as Callum told me “I feel I should be in even better shape for the 20k as that’s probably my best distance”, where training has very much been focused.
Talking of training, for Callum the past five months have included stints in Sierra Nevada, Cork and South Africa, and as he puts it has “gone really, really well” and left him excited for what the year ahead holds.
The opportunity to race tomorrow is not one Callum is taking lightly, noting his gratitude to British Athletics and Tom Bedford for putting on a trials event in amongst the COVID-related constraints. His attitude towards tomorrow – and races in general – is one I admire;
“There’s nothing that quite beats the buzz of being in a race, the nerves beforehand, and I just really, really enjoy the week leading into the race. I used to say that taper was my favourite word because of all the memories, feelings and excitement that come with having to race. It’s such a unique feeling and something I really enjoy”.
So, how about his goals for tomorrow. They are clear cut. Look forward to the race, walk the qualifying time, get the win, and book his spot on the team for Tokyo. The plan for the day before is a simple one, with no set routine, as “the simple love for racing provides the motivation needed to get ready or relaxed before the race”. It’ll include a session in the morning before travelling down to London. Perhaps some music (Arctic Monkeys, Catfish and the Bottlemen) and a bit of Designated Survivor.
As Callum says, “I am very much a racer, this is my time to shine”.
PB: 86:08 (2017)
Most Recent: 92:42, Dudinska 50, March 2021 (split within 50km race)
On Friday it will be less than a week since Dominic King set a British Record over the 50km distance. As I wrote last week, this is a suitable reward for the 37-year-old, having represented his country for 20 years, including at two Olympics, two World Championships and two Commonwealth Games, the first being Manchester in 2002.
More recently, his British vests have come at the longer distances, so it will be interesting to see how Dominic goes over 20km tomorrow.
PB: 86:14 (2008)
Most Recent: 93:37, Dudinska 50, March 2021 (split within 50km race)
Dominic’s twin brother Daniel will also be competing tomorrow. Another athlete with plentiful experience at both the 20km and 50km distances, Daniel has competed at numerous Race Walking Challenges, British Championships and the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, where he finished fifth.
He too ran the Dudinska 50 in Slovenia last weekend, finishing the 50km distance in 4:06:09.
PB: 92:27 (2019)
Most Recent: 95:29, Manx 20k Championships, September 2020
Tom Partington will be making the trip from the Isle of Man to Kew Gardens to race tomorrow. One benefit of being based in the Isle of Man has been the comparatively large number of racing opportunities over the past twelve months, including a win over 10km last month, and nine races in 2020. His most recent 20km, at the Max 20k Championships, was the third fastest of 2020 behind Tom and Callum.
PB: 88:38 (2017)
Most Recent: 92:12, Manx 20K & RWA/UKA 50K Championships, September 2018
Tonbridge’s Guy Thomas has mixed fortune when it comes to race walks, unfortunately suffering from disqualifications in 11 of his most recent 20 races. However, his 90:16 walk in Douglas in 2016 puts him fourth on the British U20 alltime list. It is two and a half years since Guy completed a 20km, having been DQed in his last race at the distance in April 2019, so hopefully he will have a better outcome tomorrow.
Most Recent: Debut
The younger brother of Callum, tomorrow will be the first time George Wilkinson takes on the 20km. The Enfield & Haringey athlete had a good 2020, setting two PBs at the 10km (46:47). His only race of the summer, at the British Championships, was sadly a disqualification. No doubt, the 19 year old has received various bits of advice and guidance from his older brother as they take to the same race over this distance for the first time.
Most Recent: Debut
Christopher Snook will be making his debut at the distance. The Aldershot, Farnham & District athlete has won medals at three British Championships, and set a PB in his most recent race – taking the England Athletics U20/U23 title over 10,000m in June 2019. Christopher hasn’t competed in 20 months, and so will be interesting to see how the race unfolds for him.
Most Recent: Debut
Luc Legon will too be making his debut in the 20km. His 2020 included walks at all distances from 1000m to 10km, setting PBs at 1000m (indoors), 2000m and 5000m on the track, and 10km on the roads, set at the Cecil Gittins Memorial Walks in Gravesend in October.
The women’s race
PB: 91:53 (2018)
Most Recent: 98:06, Chiasso in Marcia, September 2019
A scroll of Power of 10 confirms Bethan’s dominance at the walks in recent years. She is British record holder over 3000m indoors, and her PBs rank her second on the British all-time lists for the 3000m and 5000m on the track, and 10km and 20km on the road, all behind Johanna Atkinson.
A six-time British Champion on the track, Bethan has competed at events including the World Championships in London (2017), European Championships in Berlin (2018), World Race Walking Team Championships (2018), multiple editions of the European Race Walking Cup and the IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
Her career to-date however is capped off with a bronze medal for Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia over the 20km distance.
23 seconds off from a qualifying standard
Bethan holds a PB of 91:53, set in 2018 at the Lugano Trophy in Italy, 23 seconds off the Tokyo qualifying standard. Her 2019 season was beset with illness that impacted consistency in training and racing, with her times over 20km ranging from 96:58 to 99:43. However, as Bethan says, there has been good progression in recent months;
“I’ve been happy with my recent training progress … this winter I have managed to pull to together a good block of work which I’m hoping will be a stable foundation to build on. I know I’m not back to my best yet but am confident that this race will be a step in the right direction and am looking forward to heel and toeing the line with Britain’s best”.
How has Bethan made sure she feels as prepared as can be ahead of tomorrow’s race? “I like to do a super colourful mind map of my race plan, logistics, nutrition plan etc so I have a easy to view place to find any information that might become a worry in the lead up to/on race day”.
Usually, pre-race day would be spent with time for relaxation and pampering, including “a nail painting session with fellow competitors”. Of course, racing in a COVID-secure environment means this will be a solo relaxation process today.
PB: 92:33 (2017)
Most Recent: 1:42:08, Lugano Trophy, March 2019
Third on the all-time list behind Johanna and Bethan, Leeds Beckett athlete Gemma Bridge has certainly had a good career since taking up racewalking five years ago.
Under the guidance of Mark Wall and Paul Laursen, Gemma has been British Champion over 20km on the roads, 5000m on the track and 3000m indoors. Her most notable performances include representing Great Britain at the World Championships in 2017, only a year after taking up the event, and fifth place at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
It has been over two years since Gemma raced a 20km, and tomorrow will be her tenth race over the distance. A PB of 57 seconds and a top-two place would secure a spot in Tokyo.
PB: 94:49 (2019)
Most Recent: 94:49, British Athletics Grand Prix, June 2019
Pembrokeshire’s Heather Lewis goes in as the third fastest in the field, thanks to her 98:49 at the British Athletics Grand Prix in Leeds two years ago. She is also one of the most experienced over 20km in the field, with 25 races at the distance under her belt.
Her most recent race was less than three weeks ago, 10,000m on the track in Newport where she ran a 46:44.77 PB, ahead of fellow competitors Abigail Jennings and Pagen Spooner.
PB: 99:36 (2018)
Most Recent: 99:45, Lugano Trophy, March 2019
Part of the 2020 Fast10 lineup, Erika Kelly has competed at the Commonwealth Games representing the Isle of Man and made her debut in a British vest at the 2019 European Race Walking Cup. Erika’s 20km PB was set in 2018 at the Lugano Trophy in Switzerland, with her most recent performance at the distance only nine seconds slower at the same venue.
However, there is more to Erika’s life than race walking. She once released an EP that made it to fifth in the iTunes singer/songwriter charts, between George Ezra and Ben Howard. No one else racing tomorrow can claim that!
Most Recent: Debut
U23 athlete Abigail Jennings, member of Aldershot, Farnham & District, will be making her debut over the 20km distance tomorrow. She has raced at the shorter distances on the road and track, including the British Championships, England Athletics Championships and European Athletics Race Walking Permit Meetings.
As with Heather, Abigail walked at the elite-only Newport race three weeks ago, finishing second in a PB (52:24.40). Her last race over the same distance on the road was also a PB, and the fastest in 2020 by an U23 athlete.
I am pretty sure she is the only woman in the field to have also competed in the discus and shot put, even if that was eight years ago!
Most Recent: Debut
The youngest athlete in the field, Millie Morris will also be making her 20km debut, building upon two races over 10km last year. Her first walking race was less than four years ago, in the Kent Young Athlete’s League in Dartford; quite a change to the Olympics Trials!
Most Recent: Debut
Pagen Spooner is the third of the seven athletes in the field making their debut over the 20km distance. This follows on from four races over 10km and nine over 5km. Pagen, part of the National Centre for Race Walking Foundation based in Leeds under the guidance of Andi Drake, also competed in Newport on March 6th, in her second 10,000m on the track.