Next up in James Rhodes’ series of Countdown to Tokyo interviews is British indoor 800m record holder Elliot Giles
In writing these Countdown to Tokyo series pieces, I have found myself saying “this is an athlete I would really like to see do well” when they take to the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo next month. I guess that is what happens when you follow this sport as closely, and feel as heavily invested in it, as I do. However, one person who this definitely applies to is Elliot Giles, who will represent Great Britain in his second Olympics over 800m.
As you may well know, it has not been a conventional path through elite sport for the 27-year-old. His running career was threatened to be over before it had really begun following a serious motorcycle accident in 2014.
The accident left him bedbound for a number of weeks with temporary brain damage, back problems and a need to relearn how to walk, and meant he did not race between 2012 and 2015; it is not unjust to call his return miraculous; since that accident he has competed at the Rio Olympics, two World Championships, a Commonwealth Games and two European Championships, rewarded with a bronze medal at the 2016 edition.
It is 2021, however, that has been a step-change year for the Birchfield Harrier, who is excited as he looks towards Tokyo: “Oh mate, it’s awesome! It’s wicked, I can actually look forward to that and set my next few goals that I’ve got”.
His spot in Tokyo was confirmed after crossing the line first at the British Championships at the end of June in what was one of the most thrilling races of the weekend, with the top three (Giles, Oliver Dustin and Dan Rowden) separated by just three hundredths of a second. It was a race that lived up to high expectations, one that could be re-run and a completely different result recorded. Elliot walked me through it from his perspective:
“It was a wicked race, brilliant to watch, I think. It was exciting to watch it back and to think I was part of it makes it even cooler. I think you couldn’t really split between the three of us, if we ran that race ten times you might get a different result. I’d like to think I’d be on top every time, but you never really know, do you? Fortunately, I performed when it mattered.
You could argue I didn’t even win that race; I think there’s a strong argument for that, but that’s for the review of the photo finish! I guess my chest just, just crossed the line first. It was just a great race, even if Dan dipped he may well have been in contention for who crossed the line first. It was phenomenal, very exciting”.
In a race of such depth and talent, I asked whether there were any pre-set plans or tactics for the two laps that would determine whether a spot for the Olympics was his:
“My plan was always to command and conquer, and I did that. It was very calculated, I knew it was going to be down to who had the best running brain. I knew that Oli was fitter than me, and I knew that Dan was probably fitter than me because I’d had a few issues leading up to the race, so I knew I’d have to use my head and outwit them.
I had a plan in my head and I kept it very close to my chest; I didn’t play my cards and didn’t tell anyone. I made it revealing in the heats by sitting in and then kicking to try and allow the guys to think I’d sit in again in the final. I knew that I wanted to be in first or second position with 200m to go, and I knew that I could hold it from there. I found myself at the front earlier than I wanted to, but I put myself in there and I knew that I was strong enough.
I almost ran out of steam in the last 10m! I had a slight knee dip with three or four steps left to go and the boys swooped in! I guess it worked, but it almost came off absolutely perfectly”.
Consistent winter pays off
This year has seen indoor and outdoor PBs over both 800m and 1500m, and five runs under 1:45.00, something he had only done four times before the start of the year. One of those was that standout phenomenal performance at the Copernicus Cup in Poland in February, where his 1:43.63 broke Sebastian Coe’s British Indoor Record and put him second on the all-time list behind Wilson Kipketer.
For many that time was perhaps unexpected, but not for Giles who, as he told me, was relishing the opportunity to race fast, even if his outdoor season got off to a rocky start:
“That was expected, partly because it’s the first winter I’ve ever had without having an injury. I didn’t have any injuries in the year leading up to it and it’s the first time I’ve ever experienced that. I’ve never gone longer than two or three months without taking two or three weeks out, so I knew I was going to run something ridiculous. I didn’t know how ridiculous it would be, but it turned out being the second fastest time in history!
I thought I was going to start the outdoor season the same, but I tore my quad about six weeks ago and then spent three weeks injured, which is why I was a was a little bit apprehensive about the outdoor season because I started pretty rocky, and it’s just been going up and up and up”.
I knew trials was probably going to be my hardest race of the year because I knew the boys were fitter than me. But I’ve been consistent for another four weeks, I’ve had no injuries, which is why I know I’m going to drop a bomb in the next week or two. I know that I’m on my way up and I’ll be overtaking in the next week or two and it’ll be exciting, I think!”.
Indeed, Elliot told me that, for him, racing is a form of training and he revels in the opportunity to toe the line and that he’d be maximising opportunities in the run up to Tokyo to race:
“Training is racing for me, or racing is training, vice versa. I enjoy the racing more than I do the training, I enjoy the whole process of racing. I’ll be racing, that’s the plan anyways, then out to Tokyo for a little bit of training before the big one!”.
Since we spoke, Elliot raced four times in just two weeks. This included setting an outdoor 800m PB of 1:44.05 at the Stockholm Diamond League and, in his last race before travelling to Japan, a 3:52.47 PB in the Emsley Carr Mile at the British Grand Prix in Gateshead.
That time was a near four second improvement on his 2019 PB and saw him take victory ahead of a field including 1500m Tokyo representatives Jake Heyward and Jake Wightman, and sees his name added (literally, as all winners sign a special book immediately after the race) to an illustrious list of Emsley Carr Mile winners including Kip Keino, Haile Gebrselassie, Jim Ryun, Hicham El Guerrouj and British greats including Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Peter Elliott.
A perfect tune up for what awaits in three weeks time. It also poses a question as to what distance his focus will lie on in future months, something we spoke about in the context of his 3:33:80 1500m PB in Marseille in June:
“I wasn’t supposed to run that quick over 1500m! I mean, I run like 15 to 20 miles a week, I shouldn’t be able to run 3:33, and the reality is I can run even quicker than that, I just haven’t got the races to do it because I’m preparing for the 800m. I think I can go quicker again, I’d like to know! Maybe after the Olympics I’ll have a crack at a few 1500s. I haven’t earned the right yet to call myself a 1500m runner, I don’t think”.
Ready for Tokyo
Going into Tokyo, his 1:44.05 puts him second on the British rankings for 2021 and fourteenth globally – although a number of Kenyans ahead of him will not be in Japan. If you include his indoor best, he jumps to seventh on the world list. Plenty to play for, as they say.
Such is the strength of Giles’ season, he has won eight races in five countries and has only finished outside the top three in one of 16 races (at the Monaco Diamond League, famed for its ability to host incredible middle distance performances and where the only sub-1:43 times of 2021 were run).
However, it is not just about the racing and Elliot is looking forward to experiencing the wider elements that come with an Olympic Games, even if COVID means they will be significantly different to five years ago in Rio:
“Oh absolutely! My first Olympics I didn’t really race, I didn’t take it in, I didn’t soak up what the Olympics really is. I was steered the wrong way from the people that were guiding me. I’m in a place now where I’m going in with a sod-it attitude, I’m just going to enjoy it, take it for what it is and not over-complicate it, keep it simple and just enjoy the whole feel and
vibe of Tokyo and the Olympics. I’m really excited for that”.
The heats of the men’s 800m take place on Saturday 31 July, with the semi-finals Sunday 1 August and final Wednesday 4 August.