Evening Standard

How to achieve the perfect long jump: Chris Tomlinson (in sequence above) features in Aviva's new TV advert. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

Three weeks ago, Chris Tomlinson set a new British long jump record at the Paris Diamond League meeting with a leap of 8.35metres. But he still harbours one great regret.

He wishes he had not made Bernie Slaven, the former Middlesbrough striker, his role model when growing up besotted by the Teesside club.

“I should have picked a defender because, at six foot six, if you’re quick and can jump, you can be a good defender,” he says. “Look at the likes of John Terry. They’re just big strong guys and they get stuck in. But I wanted to score goals like Bernie Slaven and ended up giving up football when I was 12.”

Tomlinson explains why he turned to the jumping events two years later despite being neither passionate about the sport nor knowing much about it at the time. He had not even heard of Lynn Davies, the only British man to win an Olympic gold in this event back in 1964 in Tokyo. The two now regularly Tweet each other but Tomlinson chose to jump through careful calculation. “The honest truth is I sat down and went searching for an event in which I could represent my country.”

By then, having taken to sprinting because his sister was an athlete, he had realised he could never be the fastest in the land. “So I decided to do the high jump, moved to triple jump and then eventually onto long jump.”

But while he will always wonder if he might have been Middlesbrough’s John Terry, he is glad he is not in football. “The beauty about athletics is you’re only as good as the boundaries you set,” says the 29-year-old. “It’s not like being in a football team where, if the manager doesn’t like you, he doesn’t select you. If I jump far enough, Charles [van Commenee, UK Athletics’ head coach] has to select me. That’s all there is to it. If I was playing for Liverpool or Manchester United or even Middlesbrough, I’d have been released by now.”

That, he confesses, could have happened during “the toughest times in 2005 and 2006” when he suffered a host of injuries including a hernia, a tear in an adductor muscle and a broken toe.

He says: “2003 was also very tough. I was only 21, life had been going pretty good for me and then, I got my first serious injury and couldn’t perform at my best.

“When you can’t perform, you can’t pay your bills and that is an awful lot of stress. But I’ve got a great bunch of family and friends around me who have always encouraged me saying, ‘You can get back to the top level.'”

Confirmation that he’s among the elite came in Paris, where he was 5cm better than the previous British best set by Greg Rutherford at the World Championships in 2009.

Tomlinson and Rutherford will go head to head on Saturday at the Aviva UK Trials and Championships at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium, where athletes will be looking to cement their places in the team for next month’s World Championships in Daegu.

For all the joy his Paris record gave him, Tomlinson accepts that, to win a medal let alone gold in London, he may have to do even better. His leap was longer than that which won Irving Saladino gold at the Beijing Games. But, even in Paris, the Panamanian Saladino jumped further: 8.40m. Tomlinson says: “If I look at the stats, I’m certainly there in the mix. And in London I will be aiming for gold. I would be a fool to say I am not. But, to win, I’m going to have to jump further than in Paris.”

Tomlinson is well aware that the event is getting more competitive. “If you’re in Jamaica, Panama or Poland, it’s a way out: make a name for yourself, get out of the ghetto. The average salary in Poland is $200 or $300 a month. In a Diamond League meeting you get $1,000 for being last.”

Tomlinson, who is sponsored by adidas, has no complaints but success does mean endless drug tests. The week he claimed his record, he got tested three times. He says: “As soon as they found Chris Tomlinson broke the British record, boom, two days later the tester came round. At six o’clock in the morning I got a buzz and had to wee into a plastic container.”

His dog, Cassie, knows the routine, “Whenever the buzzer goes at six o’clock, my dog actually gets up, barks, walks up, looks at the tester and just goes back to bed. But it can be a pain.”

However all this pain will fade away the moment 2012 starts.

“It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Olympics in London, in our own backyard, is the pinnacle. To walk out in front of 80,000 people, has got to be an experience and I see no problems raising my game.”

And, what is more, his father will be there, having secured four Olympic tickets for the long jump.


Share |


Follow me on twitter

Home | About | Books | History | BroadcastingJournalismPublic Speaking | Contact | Website development by Pedalo