Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics athletics schedule getting underway, we sat down with four athletes in Japan, namely race walker Tom Bosworth (Tonbridge AC, Andi Drake), high jumper Emily Borthwick (Wigan and District, Fuzz Caan), hammer thrower Taylor Campbell (Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow, John Pearson), and pole vaulter Harry Coppell (Wigan and District, Scott Simpson). The quartet – who have all come through national age group championships – are raring to go, with the latter three making their Olympic debuts.
Before that, a message to all the English athletes in Tokyo from our head of coaching and athlete development, Martin Rush, on behalf of everyone at England Athletics:
“It’s here, Tokyo 2020, the Olympics and Paralympics. A huge congratulations to all of our England athletes who are part of Team GB, we wish you every success for the Games. And of course it is also right we remember and thank all those families, coaches, officials, volunteers, clubs and schools that support the journey of every athlete. Only a few get to go to a Games to strive, succeed and inspire but the commitment and dedication is from everyone in each athletes’ team. 幸運とご多幸をお祈りします (Good Luck and best wishes) from all at England Athletics.”
Team GB athlete Q&A…
Q: How are you feeling heading into the Olympic Games?
Tom Bosworth: “It’s great to be here. I think there’s a lot of relieved athletes just to be here. It’s a real unique atmosphere in the village, especially when those first medallists come back and you get a little bit of a taste for it and the buzz and you see the smile on their faces. You won’t get this anywhere else in the world except at an Olympic Games.
Emily Borthwick: “To actually be here, in Japan, ready for the Olympic Games, it is crazy! My mum and dad are over the moon. My family, my friends think that it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to them in their lives! It’s incredible and the support that I’ve had from home is amazing. We’re all kind of overwhelmed and excited and not sure what to expect.”
Taylor Campbell: “It means a lot, especially given the last 18 months. It’s even more special because a lot has gone on. It’s been crazy with the covid situation. To push through that during difficult times for everyone adds a lot more value to it. To be here now, it just doesn’t seem real!”
Q: Harry, you in particular had an unfortunate and painful-looking incident in training where a pole landed in your face and damaged your teeth. How are you doing?
Harry Coppell: “We got some teeth back into my face! I look ok now and I feel great. Nobody else will ever have that Olympic experience. Even though it’s been like chaos, it’s been very individual and very unique for me! I just want to soak it in. I just want to take as much as I can from this. The pole vault is a great event to be a part of, even though the standard is so high.”
Q: Tell us about when you started in the sport and your journey to the Olympics.
Tom: “My first coach, Peter Selby at Tonbridge Athletics Club said to me “you’ll be great at the longer distances, at 20 kilometres”. I was doing about 3 kilometres as a 12, 13-year-old. I said “there was no chance at all!”. I remember doing my first 10k in about the same time, not far off what I do 20k in nowadays. I just did sport for fun and my first coach encouraged that enjoyment in it and I owe him a lot because I had a long time in sport where I never ever dreamt going to an Olympic Games was possible.”
Emily: “I started athletics when I was 7. The excitement that I had when I was 7, 8, 9, it’s still within me now because I love the sport and I wouldn’t have been doing it for the last 16 years if I didn’t. High jump has only been my focus for the last five years. I’ve put my hand in at everything and I think that was really really important for me to get to this point, to just enjoy every aspect of this sport and then find something that brings out the best in me.”
Harry: “I have very fond memories of competing at that age. When you grow up in the sport – and it’s similar now with the guys on the circuit – you’re always competing against people that you know and people that you like, so it’s really easy to enjoy it. Every child comes into athletics, dreaming of coming to an Olympic Games. After the last couple of years of jumping well, I started to believe that it was possible.”
Taylor: “As an under 13, I remember going to the European Youth Olympics to watch my brother and I remember putting on his Team GB jacket and I was like “I want one of these!” Everything I was doing was built to make the 2013 World Athletics Youth Championships. It became a process of ticking off the age group championships and then before you know it, you just progress into the senior ranks. I was 16 watching the London 2012 Olympics, watching Alex Smith, Lawrence Okoye – who is now a teammate – Brett Morse, Abdul Buhari. I remember watching them in awe thinking “what an incredible opportunity to be at an Olympics”. You saw them as these role models, these superhuman people, you just couldn’t even see how you could go from being this kid to those people!
Q: Break your event down and give us some insight on what is needed from a psychological, physical and technical point of view?
Tom: “Something I really like to highlight is the jeopardy that comes with race walking, From the first kilometre to the last kilometre, you can see athletes disqualified. You can have one bad lap, as I did in London in 2017, and you can be out. You’ve always got to land with a straight leg and you’ve got to have no loss of contact (with the ground). It’s not judged using technology. The judges are well-trained and that’s what they’re looking for. As soon as it becomes visible, having both feet off the ground, you can see an athlete disqualified in one lap.”
Taylor: “When you’re throwing, you’re more of a ballet dancer than you are a weightlifter. The more effortless you look, the more force you’re producing. By the time you’re on your final turn and you’re about to release (the hammer), there’s about 300 kilograms worth of force going through your hands. You’ve got to be as strong and as stable as you can but you need to have all the skills and all the fluidity to put in a throw without tensing up, staying relaxed.”
Harry: “Physically, your body goes through a lot. You’ve got to have the speed of a sprinter, the ability of a weightlifter, and then also the flexibility and sort of nimbleness of a gymnast. It’s a very strange balance to get right. When you see a pole vaulter come down the runway, they should smoothly leave the floor and then go up and over the bar. It should all look like one movement.”
Emily: “Consistency is key. As the bar goes up, you want to try and replicate the same jump every time. In those seconds, there’s excitement, there’s nervousness, there’s that wanting to jump out of your skin, over the bar.”
Q: Beyond Tokyo, what are your thoughts on the possibility of representing England at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games next summer?
Emily: “That would be incredible and the level of the high jump in the Commonwealth is incredible as well with the Australian girls, myself and Morgan Lake. So it’s going to be a real battle and to be able to perform on home soil in Birmingham will be an incredible experience and hopefully we can bring home some really good medals.”
Tom: “Standing on the podium at the (2018) Commonwealth Games as the England Athletics Team co-captain was so so special and was unique. I want to do it again but that’s easier said than done! Those sorts of experiences will hopefully make sure I have a very successful (Olympic) Games.”
Taylor: “I think the biggest thing for me next year is going to be the Commonwealth Games. I’d love to do a World Championships but you can’t beat a home Games, especially in Birmingham. I could roll out of bed in Loughborough and be there within an hour! At the moment, sitting on the Commonwealth lead, it’s a nice position to be in. It’s going to be really competitive.”
Harry: “I was quite gutted to not have been jumping well enough to make the Gold Coast in 2018. I’m really looking forward to next year, obviously there’s going to be three major championships just in the outdoor season! Hopefully my first England team. I’m going to see how training goes over the winter months and then we’ll see where we’re at.”
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