Tom Farrell emerges from the loft of his family home next to the Stone Eden Nursery on the outskirts of Carlisle with a pile of newspapers, all dated Thursday 7 July 2005. "I'd been looking at them all morning on my paper round and I thought I'd buy a copy of every national newspaper to keep," he recalls. "I don't know why. I never thought I'd be in the position I'm in now."
Six years and 11 months on from the day he delivered the news about London winning the 2012 Olympic bid, the former paperboy is on course to take part in the London Games as a member of the Great Britain track and field team. Not that many people outside Cumbria are likely to be aware of the fact.
Apart from what was essentially a training run in the 5,000m B race in a Division Three of North of England League fixture last summer, Farrell has not competed on the track in Britain since he finished runner-up in the 3,000m junior event in the London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace in July 2009. Earlier that month he won the senior boys 3,000m at the English Schools Championships in Sheffield.
And yet, with less than seven weeks to go now to the London Olympics, the 21-year-old stands third in the British rankings in the 5,000m, behind world champion Mo Farah and European 10,000m silver medallist Chris Thompson, with an A standard qualifying time for the Games. Indeed, at the Payton Jordan Invitational meeting at Stanford in California on 29 June, Farrell finished 0.10sec behind Thompson in 13min 15.31sec, slicing 11.28sec off his personal best and moving to 10th on the UK all-time list for the 12-and-a-half-lap distance.
To apply a little perspective to his achievement, the young Cumbrian now stands just behind Brendan Foster in the all-time scheme of his event. He stands ahead of such luminaries as Dave Bedford, Eamonn Martin, Steve Jones, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram. Ian Stewart, the last Briton to win an Olympic medal at 5,000m (a bronze in Munich in 1972) and now head of endurance at UK Athletics, had a best time of 13:22.85.
"Just to be on that list, among the names that are on it... it doesn't seem real," Farrell says. "The day before the race, my coach, Dave Smith, told my dad that I would run 13:15. From the sessions I'd been doing, he knew I was capable of doing it. It was still a shock to me when I did it."
The Olympic A standard qualifying time is 13:20.00 and only four Britons have achieved it thus far in 2012: Farah (12:56.98), Thompson (13:15.21), Farrell (13:15.31) and Morpeth Harrier Nick McCormick, who clocked a big new personal best of 13:18.81 at Huelva in Spain on Thursday night. There are three team places available and a top two placing at the trials meeting in Birmingham on 22, 23 and 24 June would secure selection for anyone who has already achieved the qualifying time.
"There's still a lot of hard work to do," says Farrell, who had "a bad night at the office" at the Bislett Games on Thursday, finishing 10th in a 1,500m race that nevertheless served its purpose as preparation for the Olympic trials. "Anything could happen yet but it would be a dream come true to compete in the Olympics, especially in your home country."
Farrell has flown under the radar of recognition in his homeland because for the past three years he has been located in Tom Joad country, studying and training at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. "There are miles and miles of orange dirt roads out there," he says, at the mention of The Grapes of Wrath. "It's great for running."
Countless budding British runners have got stuck between the two stools of the US collegiate season, which runs from mid-April to mid-June, and the mainstream European circuit, but Farrell has played it smartly. In 2010 and 2011, he concentrated on college competition but this year he has taken time out from that circuit to have a crack at making a breakthrough back home.
Farrell's parents, who run the thriving Stone Eden Nursery, have another emerging young sporting talent in their 17-year-old daughter Hannah, a national league hockey player, and are stalwarts of the Carlisle-based Border Harriers athletics club. David Farrell represented the North of England as a 1,500m runner and his wife, Jennifer, finished eighth in the high jump at the 1986 Commonwealth Games.
"My parents have been a huge influence," says Tom. "They've given me the support and the motivation to do better than they did as athletes."
Gemili insists focus is juniors, not Olympics
Adam Gemili, the 18-year-old former Dagenham & Redbridge academy footballer who last week shot to the top of the British 100m rankings, is confident of going faster. "The race itself wasn't the best," the Dartford teenager said of his 10.08sec run at Regensburg in Germany. "I'm always improving and I feel I can go quicker. I'm aiming to run my quickest at the World Juniors."
Gemili, who has spent eight months working under the guidance of the sprint coach Michael Afilaka, says his focus this summer is the World Junior Championships, in Barcelona from 10 to 15 July. "If I made the Olympic team it would be a great bonus," he said. He has yet to decide whether to accept an exemption from next weekend's World Junior trials in Bedford, to leave him fresher for the Olympic trials in Birmingham a week later.
- More about:
- Athletics, Track And Field
- Olympic Stadium