Interviewed in these pages in January 2008, after being called into the Scotland squad for that year's Six Nations Championship, Thom Evans pondered the possibility of eventually returning to a life in the fast lane in time for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
"That's definitely an option," the former English schools' 200m finalist said. "It depends on whether I get any serious rugby injuries."
As the younger of the Evans brothers settled into his starting blocks for heat one of the 60m sprint in the Scottish Indoor Championships here in the West End of Glasgow yesterday, he could have been forgiven for having deleted any memory of the injury he suffered at the Millennium Stadium two years and seven days ago. As rugby injuries go, they do not get much more serious than skewed vertebrae.
Back in February 2010, when Scotland's flying winger lay paralysed after an accidental collision with the Wales full-back Lee Byrne, only the nous of the Scotland team doctor saved his life. As Dr James Robson was to reflect, had anyone attempted to move the stricken Evans by so much as a millimetre his neck would have broken and he would have been not just a former rugby player but a former human being.
"I thought I would die there on the grass wearing my Scotland shirt, or at least be spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair," Evans said. Happily, thanks to Dr Robson, and to the skill of the surgeons at Cardiff's University Hospital who gave his damaged spine a metal superstructure, the 26-year-old has lived to fight again on the sporting stage.
There he was at 10.45am yesterday – the number 20 pinned on his white vest, a pair of bright red running spikes on his feet – getting to his marks in the 60m heats of a national championships. Only a couple of hundred souls were dotted around an arena. Among them were Kelly Brook, the actress and model who is Evans' partner. His brother, Max, a member of Scotland's current Six Nations squad, was also in attendance. So was Margot Wells, the Scottish sprint guru who memorably guided her husband, Allan, to Olympic 100m gold in Moscow in 1980.
Evans did not get off to the quickest of starts but got into his stride quickly enough to finish second in 7.23sec. That was just 0.01sec down on the personal best he set at a minor club meeting in Eton on 8 January and it was good enough to take him into the final.
By the time that race came around the crowd had been swelled by some of Evans' former Scotland and Glasgow team-mates: Alastair Kellock, Johnnie Beattie, Ed Kalman and Dougie Hall. On this occasion he got off to a cracking start – only for the recall gun to fire, two of his rivals having false-started.
He was not so quick off the mark when the final got underway at the second time of asking, but fourth place in 7.20sec was no mean feat. With just three months of training behind him, Evans was never going to make a Chariots of Fire return to the Scottish sporting spotlight yesterday. Still, the one-time boy-band star and trainee actor acquitted himself well enough to suggest that following Eric Liddell from the international rugby field to the international track and field arena might not be an impossible dream.
"My aim was to make the final and run a personal best and I've done that," Evans reflected, standing in front of a framed photo of Carl Lewis running in a 60m race at the Kelvin Hall in 1992. "It is frustrating that the first start didn't count in the final because it's the best one I've ever made. But most of all it's just a pleasure to be back here.
"When I was playing for Glasgow I used to train here and wonder what it would have been like if I'd kept at my running instead of going into rugby. After everything that's happened, I feel very lucky to be where I am now. Running at the Commonwealth Games, in the 200m or 400m, would be a dream but I know, especially now, how tough it will be to get there."
As if it has not been tough to get this far. The former rugby star might not have troubled Linford Christie's championship record of 6.60sec, and might be ranked a modest 244th in the 60m in Britain this year, but as Wells put it: "Most people's memories of Thom Evans would have been of him being carted off that pitch in Cardiff and they were probably wondering whether he would ever be able to put one foot in front of the other again.
"You saw today that he can run, and run fast. What he has done here today is a massive achievement."
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