You may only get one Olympics at your absolute peak so racewalker Tom Bosworth is mightily relieved to have that opportunity in Tokyo this summer, writes Paul Eddison.
Now 31, Bosworth overcame a nerve issue to finish second at Kew Gardens in the 20km qualifying event last Friday, securing his place at Tokyo as a result.
Between the postponement of the Games, a bout of Covid that struck him down when he was in the form of his life, and this most recent issue, he admits everything has been put into perspective.
“It’s relief to be perfectly honest,” said Bosworth, one of more than 1,100 National Lottery-funded elite athletes on UK Sport’s World Class Programme.
“After the way the world has been, talking about selection, races, trials, official calls is brilliant. It felt like we were a long, long way from that. It’s time to get excited, finally.
“The pain (on Friday) was a lot worse than I thought it was going to be. Part of endurance sport is simply about completing the distance.
“So it was a huge relief to get to the end.”
The nerve issue, which runs from his lower back all the way down to the back of his knee, is something that Bosworth has to manage.
But it does not concern him overly, it comes with the territory for endurance athletes in their early 30s.
That is also when most should be hitting their peak, and having finished sixth in Rio on his Olympic debut in 2016, Bosworth – who trains full-time and has access to the world’s best facilities thanks to National Lottery funding – is hoping this will be his time to shine.
“It’s exciting, you get maybe one Olympic Games at your real peak and I definitely like at my age now, early 30s for a 20k walker is peak age,” said Bosworth, who will be hopeful of adding to the 864 inspirational Olympic and Paralympic medals won by Great Britain and Northern Ireland athletes since National Lottery funding began in 1997.
“So I’m hoping this year I can really achieve some big, big things.
“I’ve also looked at it, given the last 12 months, this might never have happened, so I’m going to go there and enjoy whatever the Games turn out to be.
“I’m fortunate, I had a memorable Games and had the full experience of a normal Games so it gives me the opportunity to focus on the important thing which is the race.”
A memorable Games experience is something of an understatement. Not only did Bosworth claim that sixth place in Rio, he then proposed to partner Harry Dineley on the Copacabana beach.
Tokyo will be different, not only because of the lack of overseas crowds and family and friends. The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed everyone’s lives, and for Bosworth that was particularly true.
He explains: “I had it at the end of March last year, so it was very, very new. I felt recovered within about a month but the impact on the body, I don’t think anybody really understood it back then.
“I’m kind of glad the Games were postponed because I went from being in the form of my life setting back-to-back British Records to really wiped out and being stuck in bed for about a week.
“Little things took it out of me. Whatever I was trying to do to keep myself busy during the first lockdown, it was tough.
“So when I came back to training, I was training at probably 60 percent level in May, and even that was too much. It dented my training for a long, long time.”
At his best, Bosworth is very much a medal contender, but he knows as well as anyone how unpredictable race walking can be.
That is even more true with the Games taking place in Japan in the middle of summer, but Bosworth believes he will be ready for the humid conditions.
He added: “It’s really tricky and you can’t be naïve to it.
“That’s something I adapt to really well, I really enjoy the heat and my body copes with it really well. Either way we’ll be prepared and I’m going to hopefully put in the best performance that I can.
“You can’t always win it but you can always be up there and that’s what I want to do, be in a British vest and at the front of races.”
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