Tom Bosworth (Club: Tonbridge AC, Coach: Andi Drake) produced a superb personal best and national record to get the England athletics team off to a medal-winning start on the first day of athletics competition at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
The 28-year-old produced the walk of his life to secure silver in 1:19:38, taking 35 seconds of his own British record and demonstrating true world class, missing out on gold by just four seconds to Australia’s Olympic bronze medalist and local favourite, Dane Bird-Smith.
Teammate Callum Wilkinson (Enfield and Haringey, Andi Drake), the 2016 World U20 champion, took 7th, his best placing at a senior major championships.
It had been an early start for the English duo, leaving the athletes’ village at an eye-watering 4:45am, although the 7am start time for the race meant the first few kilometres were covered in comparatively cool conditions.
The heat soon turned up however, both on the 1km loop course and in the race itself, as the field sped off at 4km per min pace, a speed that would only get quicker.
Bosworth was always in contention, sitting in a lead group with Bird-Smith, India’s Manish Singh, Canada’s Benjamin Thorne, Australia’s Michael Hosking and Kenyan duo Samuel Gathimba and Simon Wachira.
By the 5km mark, a six man group was off the front, with Bosworth settling in behind Bird-Smith and the rest content to sit slightly off the pace.
By the half way mark, Bosworth surged to the front, moving through the line in 39:57, just one second ahead of Bird-Smith, but it was a short lived lead. By now there were just four contenders, with Thorne and Gathimba the only two to match the Australian and English athletes, but Bosworth fell away by ten metres, and remained there for the following two kilometres.
He would later explain that the decision to drop back was tactical, resisting the urge to surge with Thorne and Bird-Smith and setting himself for a strong finish. Sure enough, by the thirteenth kilometre Bosworth was back at the front of the pack and it was Thorne’s turn to be dropped.
The Canadian remained in fourth place for the remainder and by the final kilometre Gathimba, too, had faded, leaving a grandstand finish for the appreciative crowd.
With 600m to go, Bird-Smith powered away, clenching his fist to his onlooking family as he sealed victory. Bosworth was clearly delighted with his silver medal and he too could afford the luxury of acknowledging his supporters in the crowd.
It was a special day for the Leeds-based athlete following a disqualification at last year’s World Championships.
“I’m so pleased with this medal and to be up there with Dane,” he beamed. “He’s a really good mate so I’m really pleased for him. The noise was insane; the race was brilliant fun so it must have been a great moment for him. I certainly was for me.”
“With 600m to go, I thought I had a good shout for the gold. But that’s home crowd advantage. It lifted him and carried him towards the line. The adrenaline was incredible for me so I can’t even imagine what it was like for him. It must have been amazing to win that.”
On his national record clocking, Bosworth was keen to acknowledge the impact of his long-term coach.
“I didn’t think it would be sub 1:20 but that is all thanks to my coach Andi Drake who has got me in the best shape for these Games. It is a national record but to get under 1:20 is just something else I have been targeting for a long time. I was testing the guys all the way around and they were testing me. We knew we would have to move over the last few kilometres.”
“After getting disqualified while leading at the World Championships last year it was an incredibly emotional final lap for me. So to put that to bed and win the silver is just brilliant.”
Wilkinson, too, was pleased with a very creditable performance of his own.
“It was a great experience for me,” he confirmed. “The crowd were brilliant so it was the perfect atmosphere to compete in. The course was nice and compact which suited me. There were quite a few turns which meant you had to alter your pace but that was ok with me. I started well and was walking well just behind the lead pack. I just had to be patient and I think that is what I am most proud of. “
The Enfield man was also keen to look to the future, given his lack of experience at this level of competition, and to congratulate his coach and training partner.
“Seventh and close to a PB – so I am very pleased. I’m the youngest athlete in the field by five years so I am beyond happy with the result. Give me four years and I’ll be well up the pack and chasing for medals. “
“Well done to Tom and coach Andi; they’ve worked so hard for this after the disappointment of last year so I’m very happy for them.”
Bridge fifth in scorching conditions
Gemma Bridge (Oxford City; Mark Wall) placed an admirable 5th in the women’s 20km walk after a battling display in scorching conditions.
The 24-year-old clocked 1:39:31 after adopting sensible tactics in very warm temperatures that tested the athletes to their limits.
The race was won by Australia’s 20-year-old Jemima Montag, who led from the off and was only really challenged by her teammate, Claire Tallent.
However, with just two kilometres remaining and the lead beckoning, the 36-year-old Tallent was disqualified following a third warning from the judges, leaving Montag to ease to her first international title in 1:32:50.
Bridge had stayed with the early pace, but dropped back after three kilometres and spent the rest of the race largely walking solo, picking off athletes one by one and finishing strongly to narrowly miss out on fourth place to Khushbir Kaur of India.
New Zealand’s Alana Barber took silver and Wales’ Bethan Davies a super bronze.
Bridge was satisfied with her performance:
“Considering the build-up I am just happy to be here – I had been injured and had food poisoning and just had two weeks’ training before coming out here. So I’m happy just to be here.
“I wanted to come out here and just enjoy it so I tried to smile as much as I could. Just enjoy the experience. I didn’t think I could medal then halfway round I thought maybe I have a chance or at least could get closer.”
“It would have been nicer to have held on to them longer for my confidence but I like chasing. It meant that I could relax and just do my own thing, not worry about my technique and enjoy the experience.”