Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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THE INTERVIEW: TOM BOSWORTH

Two time Olympian, and good friend of Sevenoaks Sport & Wellbeing, Tom Bosworth has bid his final farewell to race walking, as he retires from competitive athletics. In a fitting bow out, at the end of August, Tom raced his final race on his home track at Tonbridge Athletics Club where it all began some 20 years ago.

Many of you will have followed Tom’s career with his monthly Sevenoaks Sport & Wellbeing column, giving us an insight into the highs and lows of a professional athlete, so it is only fitting that we caught up with him on his retirement announcement and his plans for the future. In a remarkable career, Tom made his GB debut in 2009 and competed at the Olympic games in Rio and Tokyo. He has won 21 national titles and holds the World records for one mile and the 3000m indoors and outdoors, plus the British record for the 20k race walk.

In what’s been an incredible career with some absolutely amazing achievements along the way, can you tell us which moment in your career was your all time stand out moment?
It’s hard for me to put it down to one moment. I never dreamed of reaching the levels I did. Just making my first major championships was a dream come true. I just kept setting new goals when I achieved one and never put a limit on it. I guess if I had to choose one it would be the Rio Olympics, my true break through race, breaking my own 20km national record and then proposing to my fiancé on the beach in Rio afterwards, topped off an incredible few weeks.

How and when did you make that difficult decision to retire?
It wasn’t easy, last Christmas I wasn’t able to train after having several facet joint injections in my spine and an epidural. The year before had also been ruined due to injury. I hoped this might fix the problem. It did, but it took so much away from me it was up and down all year and I didn’t have the time to put any consistent training together.

So in the spring I chose not to risk my body and the next two years until the Paris Olympics. It felt right to enjoy this summer and go with whatever happens and be able to walk away from my career on my terms. And that’s what I did.
Training takes away from your everyday life and I was ready for a new start, new challenges and some time at home. I knew that was the key sign to knowing this was the right time.

You chose your last race to be at Tonbridge Athletics Club as a homage to your coach, your friends and family and indeed to the club itself that helped develop your career. How emotional was that?
I wanted a way to give back to everyone who was there at the start and I thought what better way than doing a local race back at my home club. Just how I started in the sport.

The race was brilliantly supported by a range of athletes, all ages and abilities and that’s what athletics is about, it was fantastic to see so many wanting to be involved in my final race.

But what was more emotional was that so many people did turn out. Friends and my close and extended family turned up, friends from the athletics community turned up also, and I was blown away by the crowd that was there.
It was beyond what I could have hoped for and the club did a fantastic job holding the entire day of athletics.
It was so special seeing people I hadn’t seen for over ten years and having my first coach there as well as athletes new and experienced. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end.

You have almost single handily raised the profile of race walking here in the UK with your wonderful, likeable personality. Is this important to your legacy?
I hope all I’ve done is demonstrated that with a little explanation the event can be better understood. Not only that people then learn that race walkers walk faster than many can run!

Along with the risk and jeopardy of getting red cards from the judges and possible disqualification it’s pretty exciting.
It was never my intention to try and change the sport in any way, it happened naturally as we went and it was hugely down to my team in Leeds who helped me get the Diamond League races on.

But it was also the time spent within the athletics community and their support that meant my races suddenly were fully covered by various TV channels just like any other athletics event is.

You have opened up candidly about your mental health and encouraging people to talk. It will have been a massive support to many people out there.
I hope so, it came as a bit of a shock to me. I didn’t read the signs early enough. I wish I’d had some sort of indication at how bad things can get without you realising. My message is learning to realise these, acknowledging them and taking some small steps, which will ultimately prevent things from getting worse and jeopardising your wellbeing.

You are also incredibly supporting of all the young athletes and future athletes out there, encouraging youngsters who may not be good at sport to keep trying. Why this is so important to you?
Because I was awful when I was a kid! Today’s world, what with social media, everyone feels they need to be an expert right away. But how can you be! And if you give up after the first few tries, you’re never going to achieve anything, I just want people to realise there is a long learning to everything. It’s not a dream or goal if it’s easy to achieve. So, enjoy the process, keep turning up and see where it takes you. It’s a long game to master any skill but so rewarding when you get there, especially if you’d enjoyed the process.

You were also the first track and field athlete in the UK to come out openly as gay. This would have been incredibly inspiring to other LGBT athletes. How do you think the world of athletics is doing regarding LGBT equality?
I never realised the issue and the under representation of the LGBT community in sport until I came out. My story went worldwide and I didn’t really understand why. As I educated myself more and more, I learned the importance of being visible. I understood the importance to encourage the right environments for working and within sport. This ultimately just comes down to people’s wellbeing. The happier people are, the more comfortable they feel, the better performance they will put in, which is ultimately what is crucial in elite sport.

What are your plans for the future? Do you have an exclusive on any jungle or strictly call ups? Would you do any of them if asked?
I certainly would consider these opportunities. I mean I’m pretty squeamish, so I’d be comedy gold in the jungle. But I’m remaining heavily involved in the sport whilst also building my own commercial career away from the athletics track.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
I think I’d just like to thank everyone in my home county of Kent and all those around the country who have supported me over the years. It’s been an integral part of my success and I felt I had so much purpose as I got better, and more people took an interest. It was a pleasure representing my country for over thirteen years.

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