Article Reproduced by kind permission of Athletics Weekly
Distance star of the future, Chris Thompson, can vividly recall the moment he decided athletics might just be the sport for him.It wasn’t as you might think, at an English Schools’ track and field championship or an English schools’ cross-country event or even a local race meeting or school sports day. It was when he beat his father for the first time.From the age of nine Thompson was regularly taken for runs by his dad, Peter, but no matter what Chris tried he couldn’t beat him in a sprint finish.But at the age of 12 that finally all changed.”My dad used to beat me with a sprint finish” he admitted. “He always had a bit of speed about him.”But I remember I’d joined the local club and had a bit of training behind me, and this day I outsprinted him. I remember pointing my finger at him when I went past him, it was brilliant.”And I remember him making up loads of excuses, like he’d had a hard day at work”And what of the rematch? “Oh, that never happened,” Thompson adds frankly, “he never raced me again.”So the story of Thompson’s promising rise through the junior ranks began. As he embarks on his second year as a senior athlete he is already showing the signs that British distance running may not quite be in the intensive care unit many believe.Witty, cheeky, charming and plain-speaking, Chris Thompson is certainly a joy to interview, and lays to rest the misconception that distance runners are by nature shy and retiring.Dubbed the ‘Laughing Cavalier’ of British athletics by Athletics Weekly, this amply describes the Aldershot, Farnham and District athlete who is in terms of personality, the Dean Macey of the endurance running world.
He speaks with an accent that is somewhere between Home Counties and Northern England and the indiscernible accent becomes clear when he explains he lived the life of a nomad as a youngster, regularly moving from place to place due to his father’s job.
Born in the same hospital as his father in the Cumbrian town of Barrow-in-Furness, he also cites Poole, Solihull, Crawley and Fleet as other towns he has lived in his short life. But it is from about the time his family settled in the Hampshire town of Fleet that his passion for running flourished.However he was far from a young superstar at the sport and in his early teenage years was only the number two cross-country runner in his school behind Richard Prince.Beside that first ever victory over his dad, another key moment occurred at the age of 15 when he scored his first major victory in the local Hampshire League. He was regularly beaten by a talented runner called Ronnie Haville, until he made the most of the situation when he saw his big rival take the wrong direction in a cross-country race.
He explained: “I thought to myself this was my big chance and went on to win the race. I really gained confidence from this and he never beat me again.”His rate of progression from steady club runner into potential future international moved along at breakneck pace. The following season he finished third in the English Schools’ Cross-Country Championships and went on to win the Home International cross-country.
International medals soon followed and the Mick Woods-coached athlete lifted team silver and then team gold in the European Junior Cross-Country Championships in 1998 and 1999.With all this success you’d think Thompson is a glutton for punishment, or should that be training? Well not really.”I don’t think I’ve ever been in love with the sport, particularly not the training,” he said. “People say it must get easier the more you do, but it gets even harder. But I do love competing.”The Loughborough University student has also earned a reputation as a popular socialiser, throwing himself headlong into campus life. He admits to committing the occasional transgression in the past, but argues no athlete is more dedicated when it comes to preparing for big events.”I do like to go out a bit,” he admitted. “But when it comes to the big events like World Juniors and European Cross events I’m totally focussed.”I’m still only 20, and as long as I keep my running going I don’t worry about the odd night out.”In fact, his big race pedigree is second to none and his mental approach has also been widely praised in the athletics fraternity. For example, he turned his ankle in training just weeks before the World Junior Championships in Chile in 2000, but battled through the pain barrier to finish an impressive 11th in the 5000m final.Then, just two months later, he shook off the effects of a cold to produce his finest performance, a brilliant individual silver medal in the European Junior Cross-Country Championships in Sweden.
“I remember picking up a cold the week before the Europeans, but I refused to accept it because I was determined to do well. Everything went perfectly in the race and in some ways it was one of my easiest runs. “I was unbelievably focused but I remember my whole body collapsing on me with a cold a couple of days after the event.”
He also said UK Athletics had recently sent him a video of the race and he had a lump in his throat watching the race for the first time and receiving his medal.He was similarly animated on the podium in Malmo – at least when the German gold medal winner tried to give him a congratulatory peck on the cheek during the award ceremony.”On the video, this German is coming towards me to try and kiss me, but I pull away and shake the hands of both the German and the bronze medal winner,” he adds cheekily.A total of 14 months on from his wonderful Malmo memories, Thompson is in the process of trying to cross the chasm between junior and senior athletics.Early signs suggest the Cumbrian-born athlete is adapting positively to the change. Last summer he sliced more than 20 seconds from his personal best in the 5000m with a 13:45.27 clocking. He also performed with credit at the European Under-23 Championships in Amsterdam, claiming fifth spot in the 5000m and later finished ninth over the same distance in the World University Games in Beijing.Meanwhile in his first senior international cross-country race he finished a respectable 35th and fourth counter in the European Cross-Country Championships in Thun in Switzerland.His next target is the world short-course trials in Newport, but it is on the track where his future priorities lie. “In the past I’ve been more of a cross-country runner. But I don’t think that’s the case now. I really want to be known as a track runner.”My coach and I haven’t decided how to play things at the moment. I might decide to go for the Commonwealth Games over 5000m. But another option is try and work on my speed over 1500m and try and concentrate on the shorter stuff during the winter months.”
The ‘Laughing Cavalier’ of British athletics he may be, but he raises a very salient point when talking about the ongoing distance debate.”In my event, the 5000m, other than David Moorcroft, nobody has really done it. Other than David, Britain has produced only one other guy to go under 13:10. So, it is a bit of a myth to say we’ve always been at the top of the tree in 5000m running.”But with the likes of Thompson developing positively, the bleak assessment of the state of British endurance running might remain just like his dad’s running pre-eminence over his son.