Tokyo 2020 - 'I’ve had to overcome so many hurdles' - Team GB Olympic marathon runner Chris Thompson
Thompson’s emphatic celebration winning the British trials last month won plenty of new fans, as the veteran of the athletics circuit secured his place at a second Olympics in 2021 in the same week as becoming a dad. Thompson, who turns 40 on Saturday, has been telling Eurosport about the struggles he has had getting to this point - and toeing the line between extreme fatigue and peak performance.
Chris Thompson celebrates winning the British marathon trials
Chris Thompson still cannot stop beaming. In the space of three weeks, the marathon runner has had his world turned upside down, becoming a dad and securing his place at a second Olympics, just shy of his 40th birthday, in the summer of 2021.
He will celebrate that landmark this Saturday, another moment to celebrate in an epic month of emotion. “There's that sudden realisation of how life has changed and how it might look,” Thompson tells Eurosport.
Thompson won the British trials to earn his spot in Tokyo, producing an emotion-fuelled celebration on the entire finish straight to round off what had been some week. Just days before, he’d welcomed Theo into the world with his wife, Jemma Simpson, another Olympian, who cut him plenty of slack in those first few moments of becoming parents.
“She knows full well what the pressure before races is like, she knows what's needed,” said Thompson.
“It's not strange to have a lack of sleep before a race, but not for six days on the bounce. She was phenomenal, reminding me what I needed to do, it was a real team effort juggling everything.
“Jemma's labour started in the early hours of Sunday and then that was it until Monday, 6am. I had to let go of everything that I'm used to in preparing for the race on Friday, I still wanted to be a dad and enjoy that moment.
“The best way I can describe it is that I built this really good boat. It was a sturdy, lovely looking boat. I'd filled in all the holes and it was strong but I was about to go into really stormy waters and the water was coming over the top all week.
I was trying to keep the boat afloat just to get across. I honestly feel like if I had taken one more bucket of water, I'd have been out of it. The line I towed was just so tight. The reaction of when I finished shows how emotionally wired I was, how much I was trying to keep in control of myself to perform.
It has been quite the journey for Thompson to get to this point. Riddled with injuries throughout his career, few athletes have endured quite so much and kept going. He admits he has come close to retiring “countless times”, but says after years of struggle, it has finally paid off. He even had bad luck going into the trials.
“Nine weeks before the race, I broke my hand and I had two plates put in,” he said.
My hand was crushed. I went to see the physio after the race and both her and the surgeon were asking how did you turn that around?! I couldn't run for 10 days. I was holding my hand up in the air everyday for a week after the operation.
“When I add everything up together, to have an Achilles operation and basically be told your career is done, to run in pain for five years, non-stop every day...hernia operations. I’ve had to overcome so many hurdles.”
Chris Thompson congratulations Mo Farah on his 10,000m gold at London 2012
Image credit: Getty Images
Thompson’s struggles have made him a favourite on the athletics circuit, among fans and fellow runners. He has been struck but the amount of people who have got in contact with him to send their congratulations, and the number who say they have been inspired by him to keep going.
“It's going to be surreal to be at an Olympics at 40, and I won't think about it, but I'm sure the people will keep reminding me,” said Thompson.
“There are a lot of athletes who are probably five, six years younger than me who've just extended their careers because they'll have seen this and know they can still do it. The messages I've received, it's just really flattering.”
Thompson says he is only now starting to look forward to the Games, and with just over three months to go, still does not know what his training schedule will look like. The only thing he is completely sure about is that it will not get in the way of bonding with Theo.
“I have no idea what the next few months will look like combining having a small child and Olympic training,” he said.
We don't have a routine. He's not a hurdle, he's my son, he's a part of this and I'll need to be more adaptable than I've ever been. There may be days where I will miss a run because he needs attention.
“There's definitely a level of contentment and a level of internal confidence that I've not felt before. Maybe I'll be training at 2am every day - there’s your next story!”