British Athletics diary: Paul Halford writes about Tom Gale's winds of change - from first 2m jump to Diamond League final in under two years


Tom Gale HJ.jpgTom Gale, HJ, photo by UK Athletics

This is Paul Halford's column for the week on British Athletics. Paul wrote on Tom Gale, the young high jumper who shows so much promise. We thank Paul, who writes a weekly column for @runblogrun on the athletes of British athletics.

Tom Gale's winds of change - from first 2m jump to Diamond League final in under two years, by Paul Halford

The English Schools Track and Field Championships is the pinnacle of every young British athlete's junior career, but stats often show a worryingly high number of its champions drop out of the sport by their early twenties.

However, Tom Gale's fortunes have been the complete opposite. Just 15 months after his English Schools triumph in Gateshead with 2.12m and less than two years after breaking 2m for the first time he was competing in the Zurich Diamond League, having gained an invite to arguably the biggest one-day meeting in the world.

It came at the end of a great 2017 in which he defended his Schools title with 2.22m and then made a big improvement to win bronze with 2.28m at the European Junior Championships in Grosseto.

"It's been incredible," said the 18-year-old of his remarkable ascendancy. "My coach (Denis Doyle) said to me after I jumped 2.28m at the European Juniors, 'Do you want me to try to get you into a Diamond League?' and I said yes with full expectations I wasn't going to get in."

He did get in. And in that meeting in Birmingham, he finished third, beating Robbie Grabarz, Gianmarco Tamberi and Matteusz Przybylko.

The Briton explains: "In Birmingham I was in the physio after the competition and Denish comes up to me and says you've been invited to the Diamond League final in Zurich and I was, 'sorry what?'

The 12 invites for that Diamond League final were handed out based on positions in the series' standings. Gale was 17th thanks to his points in Birmingham and declined invitations meant a place eventually fell to him.

So from two years prior being a 1.96m jumper he was competing among the world's best, including world champion Mutaz Barshim. Yet he was far from overawed by the experience, the level-headed youngster treating is just like any other competition.

"It was great to compete against those guys, but they were never really huge role models for me," he says. "When I walk into competitions, I'm a different person, I'm very confident. I fully believe that I can beat almost everyone out there. I had about 10 seconds in Birmingham where I had a starstruck moment when I saw them all in the warm-up area, but after that it was business as usual."

Gale elaborates on his why his rise has been apparently so sudden. "I should have jumped 2.00m back in 2015," he says. "I finished the season with a PB of 1.96m, but there were a few jumps in the season that were big jumps. It was a hard year as a lot of the competitions I went to I was only clearing my starting height."

It was at the end of that year that he switched coaches. He says: "I had incredible coaching at Bath University from Diana Viles, but I remember after finishing a session she said to me, 'I've taken you as far as I can take you.' She's an incredible coach but she knew her limit."

Viles introduced him to Doyle. "From there it's been a massive upwards trajectory," says Gale.

Given how he was as a child, it is perhaps no surprise he ended up as a high jumper. "I haven't always been the quickest, but I've always been very elastic, the one who can jump the highest and the longest," he says. "I always saw something and thought, 'I can jump that.'"

He had good sporting genes, too. One of his uncles held the 100m record at the Clarendon Academy - until it was broken by his other uncle. That in turn was revised by world 4x100m relay gold medallist Danny Talbot.

When in 2013 he had chance to try high jump for the first time in school, he was among those his teacher picked out to come in at the later height because he was expected to do well at it.

He recalls of that day: "I think my first PB was something like 1.42m-1.44m. The technique I made up on the spot."

It is fair to assume that another 12-centimetre improvement is unlikely next year, but he believes that even in a young man's discipline he has plenty more improvement to make.

"I'm only training twice a week on club nights," he says. "We're very slowly building up what I'm doing just to avoid injury. My 2.28m at the European Juniors, the height over it was absolutely phenomenal. It was just the best jump I've ever seen from myself and on the day it just felt so easy... There is still more to give, more I can do."

Gale's rise to the top has been a whirlwind tour, but he seems unlikely to blow himself out any time soon.

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