Athletics: Tomlinson spearheads Britain's leap forward

By Mike Rowbottom
Monday 27 January 2014 04:39

Chris Tomlinson, as his coach Peter Stanley is fond of saying, has springs. Wherever they are concealed within the 20-year-old's gangling, 6ft 6in frame, they propelled him to victory on Saturday in a domestic long jump battle of unprecedented quality.

Five weeks to the day after breaking the longest-standing British record in the books, Lynn Davies' 34-year-old mark of 8.23m, this affable Middlesbrough athlete rose to the more pressing challenge of two other hugely-promising long jumpers in the shape of Nathan Morgan, 23, and Jonathan Moore, the 17-year-old world youth triple jump champion. It took a final effort of 8.17m to do it after Morgan and Moore, clubmates at Birchfield Harriers, had led into the last round with efforts of 8.11 and 8.03 respectively.

Never before had three British long jumpers exceeded eight metres in the same competition. Never before had a long jump event taken top billing in a televised domestic event, but such was the honour accorded by the BBC in their coverage of the Aqua Pura International here.

"I suppose the pressure was on me, but I always believed I had that jump in me," said Tomlinson, who has prepared for this season by training under Stanley's watchful eye in company with another north east athlete who has enjoyed a certain amount of success, Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards was present when Tomlinson made his breakthrough in Tallahassee, and Stanley believes the world and Olympic triple jump champion's huge experience is having a beneficial effect upon his younger charge. He also sees Tomlinson's manifest enthusiasm to improve refreshing an athlete who only needs a Commonwealth title this summer to have won everything possible.

Medals in either Manchester or Munich, where the European Championships will be held, are now a realistic goals for Tomlinson, who proved on Saturday that he is someone who responds to competition as much as record targets.

However, he foresees an increasingly intense struggle for domestic supremacy as British long jumping begins to shape up in the way domestic triple jumping did seven years ago when Edwards drew others up in his wake.

"It was good to see Jonathan and Nathan going over eight metres," Tomlinson said. "I've had the record for five weeks now, but I don't think it'll last another five. I think it will be broken a few times this summer. I wouldn't like to say by whom though."

Four years ago, Morgan was the jumper everyone expected to break Davies' record after he had broken through to finish third at the European Cup in St Petersburg and jumped a best of 8.11 to win the AAA title. But he then suffered a long period of frustrating back problems during which he felt he was not given sufficient financial support.

On Saturday however, after his wind-assisted effort appeared to have given him victory until Tomlinson's final flourish, he was bullish about his prospects. "I'll be British No 1 again soon," Morgan said. "No doubt about that. I really like Chris and respect him, but the future of British long jumping is myself and Jonathan."

While Tomlinson and Morgan took the leading positions, perhaps the most significant result for the domestic sport in the long term was Moore's British junior record. At just 17, this son of Aston Moore – triple jump bronze medallist at the 1978 and 1982 Commonwealth Games – has the sprinting ability, technique and attitude to make a huge impact on both the long jumping and triple jumping events.

Meanwhile, another teenager from Birchfield Harriers is already at that stage. Mark Lewis-Francis' victory in the 100 metres, achieved in a time of 10.10sec, was all the more remarkable for the fact that it was run in damp, cool weather in a race where he was slowing for the final 20 metres because of a hamstring pull. It was a performance that equalled the 19-year-old's personal best, set at Crystal Palace in 2000.

Had it not been for a faulty wind gauge at last year's World Championships in Edmonton, the world junior champion would have a best of 9.97sec to his name, but if he has yet to register a sub-10sec time officially, there is no question that Lewis-Francis will be operating in that territory this season.

To have produced such a run in unfavourable conditions in what was his first domestic appearance of the season was, however, something of a surprise. "That was a total shock to the system," he said.

On a day when the Commonwealth selectors descended on Loughborough to view Britain's wealth of young talent, one young sprinter and three young long jumpers provided evidence that there will be plenty more shocks to the system to relish this year.

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