The elation Tom Bosworth felt as he crossed the line in Doha to record a personal-best seventh-place finish in the 20km walk at the World Athletics Championships was not just a reward for two years of hard work. It was also recognition of a huge achievement in the face of incredible adversity.
Less than 12 months previously, a period of depression had led to him considering taking his own life. But with the help of friends, family and professionals, he was able to return to 100 percent in time to not just compete in Qatar, but also improve on his previous best.
“I don’t think I am inspiring,” he insisted to The Sportsman upon his return to the UK. “I just hope I can be a bit of light at the end of a dark tunnel for some, or a way of recognising that no one is alone in this.
“I owe so many people so much for this last year, and to carry on has been so difficult. I hope I can reward them all in my performance and by living happy and healthy. It’s all I wish for anyone.”
Bosworth’s story is surely a model for anybody having a troubled time, and he adds that the best advice to anyone in a similar position is to simply reach out:
“Don’t try and stay strong, don’t try and deal with it on your own. Sometimes reaching out to anyone, not even someone that close to you, can set the ball rolling. It will take time too. Setbacks happen in life, it’s nothing personal. Just realise you’re no burden. There are always people there for you.”
The 29-year-old’s achievement came not just against the background of his own health issues but also amidst well-documented troubles in Doha, with climatic conditions and the lack of crowds at the large majority of events having caused widespread consternation.
Bosworth admits that the lack of interest amongst the locals was a source of huge disappointment.
“I’m not sure the city of Doha even knew the World Championships were on. It was a real shame,” Bosworth explains. “I got more questions about the competition on the train on the way home than I did by locals I met in the week I was in Doha. I hope Eugene 2021 will relive the sort of athletics celebration that London 2017 was.”
The difficult temperatures made life tough for athletes during the events, with many disciplines - including Bosworth’s 20km walk - being rescheduled to unsociable times of the day to make competing more comfortable.
However, the women’s marathon - run at midnight - was notable for the withdrawal of 28 of the 68 competitors due to heat-related issues. And Bosworth explains that there was no level of training and preparation which could have sufficiently prepared anyone to perform at the best.
“If you thought by turning up a few days later, no matter how fit you are, was going to do the trick, you were in for a shock,” says the 29-year-old. “Our midnight race ended up 32°C, but the biggest problem was the near 80% humidity which just continued to rise. We prepared for many hours over the previous year in these conditions in heat chambers at Leeds Beckett University but even then it still didn’t replicate the true strain on the body.
“It was shocking to see [people collapse] in all road races. Plenty didn’t finish and it was tough to see your friends in such a bad state. Dane Bird-Smith, the Australian, looked like a zombie after the race. We are used to the struggles in long road races, but this was such an extreme. I’m just glad to know everyone made it out safely and it demonstrated how well prepared for the Tokyo Olympics everyone will need to be.”
Bosworth put in a fantastic performance in those testing conditions to record a seventh-place finish, the first time he has ever managed a top-eight finish at the World Championships. But he adds that he faced several challenges out in Qatar:
“We had nothing to do all day until training, it was too hot to go out and have a look about as I didn’t want to risk dehydrating or tiring myself out in the days before. It was a true mental battle to stay calm and relaxed.
“The British team hotel was a fantastic set up, with good food, good facilities. But the security was a bit strange, it was almost as if anyone could enter the hotel as long as they went through the airport-like security. But apart from that, I enjoyed every moment.”
The Middle-Eastern country will also host the World Cup in 2022, although Bosworth is less than convinced that tournament can be a runaway triumph following his experience:
“The tournament can be a success as long as the fans turn up, which I hope they will. However, I can see there being a lot of unwell fans due to the heat. It should be a bit cooler in the winter months but still I can’t imagine it being that much of a celebration of football.”
Despite the testing environment, Bosworth was delighted with his performance and is now looking ahead to next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“I am over the moon. I always aim for the podium nowadays, but with so many distractions and injuries to overcome, as well as a stomach issue two weeks before, I am so pleased to finish seventh in the world,” he explains. “I can take reassurance in that what we are doing for Tokyo Olympics is working.
“There is no one aim for Tokyo, it’s more to ensure I enjoy my training, enjoy racing and am happy at home. If that all comes together then I’ve got nothing to worry about and the outcome at the Olympics will be me racing to the best of my ability... but a medal would be nice.”
It would be more than nice. It would be fair reward for a competitor of immense drive and courage, who has dealt with the lowest of lows to show others that what might feel impossible can still be achievable.