He’s now seen as a medal threat and Tom Bosworth is determined to keep the spotlight on race walking and prove his Rio result was no fluke
As Tom Bosworth chats to the media ahead of the IAAF World Championships 20km race walk, the 27-year-old turns around to look at a poster promoting the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team to see his own face staring back at him. “I’m not sure whether a race walker has ever been on this sort of thing before,” he admits.
It’s further evidence of the impact that Bosworth has had on taking British race walking to another level.
On Sunday he will line up as one of the medal contenders in London. People will head to The Mall for a ‘Festival of Race Walks’ with the 50km events getting under way at 07:45 before the women’s and men’s 20km races at 12:20 and 14:20 respectively, when Bosworth will be among those racing on the 2km loop course between Buckingham Palace and Admiralty Arch.
People will clap, people will cheer and people may even start accusing the athletes of ‘cheating’ through ‘lifting’, but to Bosworth, that’s okay. Because the more exposure the sport gets, the more chances there are for fans to properly learn the rules.
“The more attention we get, the more people are going to be freeze framing it and saying they are all off the ground and running,” Bosworth recognises. “The more TV exposure it gets, the more we can educate that there is a bit of lifting allowed because we want to keep it an athletic event.”
Bosworth faced all kinds of comments after his world record-breaking mile performance at the Müller Anniversary Games last month. The Tonbridge athlete – who clocked an incredible 5:31.08 for a time quicker than most people can run – succeeded in his aim of getting race walking included in a Diamond League meeting programme and as a result, the spotlight was on the sport.
“People were comparing it to doping,” he says, describing some of the ‘cheating’ accusations. “I was like, ‘Really? We are going to go down that line?’
So what is allowed?
“The rules of race walking have changed over the years,” says Bosworth. “People never know about the straight leg part of the rule. That’s where the bit about the bum-wiggle comes from. The leg has to land straight and that is by far the hardest thing to do. If you go out running, try and land with a straight leg, no bend whatsoever.
“The lifting rule is if it’s clear to the human eye and you have clearly got both feet off the ground you are disqualified. The judges can see the difference quite clearly and when I show somebody that ‘this person got disqualified and this person didn’t, here’s why’, you can see their feet are much higher – almost like a running stride as they are breaking down and getting tired.
“The IAAF are working on this chip to put in the shoes to show whether an athlete is off the ground, but what I find quite funny is I’ve heard they are going to allow for this little margin of error, basically. They are going to allow their walkers to still be able to break contact by a little amount so you are still going to be able to see pictures of us off the ground but I guess we are all now measured by exactly the same thing.”
“People say ‘why walk when you can run?’, but why breast stroke when you can do the front crawl? Running is easy – running is for people who can’t race walk!” he adds, tongue in cheek.
As well as gaining exposure for race walking, the one-mile event at the Anniversary Games provided another welcome confidence boost for Bosworth ahead of the world event in the UK capital.
Since his sixth-place finish at the Rio Olympics last summer, the Brit has continued to impress and it all bodes well for improving on his last global mark when he returns to major competition.
“It is important to remember a mile is not 20km,” he says, “but look at Mo (Farah), who has a British record at 1500m and is running 10km and winning world champs. You’ve got to have the range there, definitely.
“I think there will be a lot more attention. When I got my accreditation (for the World Championships) people were like, ‘Tom Bosworth is here’ and it has made me go, ‘oh s***!’ a little bit. It is a whole new experience for me and it’s where I wanted myself and the event to get to.
“People clearly think highly of me which is brilliant but I have said all year all I want to do is back up Rio. I am confident I can go and put on a good show. I know the hard work has been done so if I finish eighth or if I get a medal, I will be equally happy with both of those.
“The first thing I wanted to do coming into 2017 was show that wasn’t a fluke. Race walking events aren’t massively broadcast, but all year at IAAF Challenge races and things like that all I wanted to do was make sure I was in that lead pack and on podiums regularly.
“I heard one rumour from a medallist from Rio who has said they are concerned about me the most,” he adds. “That is a nice compliment to hear but I’m not going to let it faze me.”
» Want to learn more about the rules of race walking? Check out Understanding athletics: The rules of race walking