Chris Tomlinson: Olympian long jumper to retire before he 'fizzles out'

By Matt Newsum and Mark DruryBBC Tees
Chris Tomlinson
Chris Tomlinson represented Great Britain at the Athens, Beijing and London Olympics

For the past 20 years Teesside long jumper Chris Tomlinson has put his body through the rigours of elite athletic competition, harnessing every ligament, muscle and sinew in the quest for success.

Three consecutive Olympic Games appearances, a World Indoor silver medal, European Championship bronze and British records are the rewards - the achievements that justify the physical sacrifice.

But what happens when the success begins to dry up? The distances tumble, the crowds and venues decrease, while the body deteriorates and recreating the buzz becomes harder.

"I've jumped in front of 70,000 people, gone to Diamond League events in front of 50-60,000 people, it's the equivalent of being a Premier League footballer," Tomlinson, 34, told BBC Tees.

"You're going around the world - New York, Monaco, Rome - big stadiums and financial incentives and then suddenly you're struggling to make the cut.

"It's like going from the Premier League to the Third Division."

Time to say goodbye

That decline in Middlesbrough native Tomlinson's performances was compounded by a bout of glandular fever from which his form has not fully recovered.

Ultimately, it led him to announce his retirement on Twitterexternal-link on the eve of the British Championships in Birmingham, where he finished fifth and received a warm reception from the crowd.

"I can pinpoint it back to last July. I jumped just under eight metres with a very ragged technique and then I hurt my groin," Tomlinson said.

"A couple of weeks after that I got glandular fever and from that point onwards I haven't jumped more than 7.60m.

"I thought it could be the last one, and I spoke to [wife] Lucia and she said, 'If you're going down there to compete, go and enjoy it and let people know the situation you're actually in'.

"So many athletes just fizzle out. For almost 15 years I've been supported around the world.

"I'm an honest bloke and if this is the last time I'm on the runway then the people who have supported me wanted to be aware."

Tomlinson breaks British record

'A heart-breaking decision'

The fine margins at elite level on the runway have gradually seen Tomlinson slide out of contention for major honours.

The injuries - knees, calves and groin to name but three - coupled with his increasing years and illness forced what was a heart-wrenching decision to call it a day before his standing in the sport was affected.

"Although my training has been good, I'm still strong in the gym and still do decent speed endurance," Tomlinson continued.

"I haven't actually been able to produce the same force off the take-off board, the same top-end speed. I've been trying and trying and trying.

"I'm 35 in September - it's probably down to a bit of old age dare I admit it. It happens to us all.

"I'm out there giving it 100% and the tape measure just isn't being pulled as far as it used to. If I'm so far off it, maybe this is the time to finish it and close a chapter even though it breaks my heart.

"I don't want to be remembered as an athlete who goes out and keeps on going and not performing."

Looking back

While the feelings are still raw, Tomlinson admits he will look back on his career with mixed emotions.

"There are a lot of what ifs and regrets, but there's also a lot of satisfaction. I jumped 8.20m in nine separate seasons, which is quite a feat, but I only had a best of 8.35m.

"I had great consistency. I have medals from World Championships and Europeans but I never won a Worlds or Olympics."

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