Alumnus Tom Somers sets sights on Tokyo 2020 qualification

Tom Somers in action at the Glasgow 2019 European Indoor Championships (Credit: British Athletics/Mark Shearman)

The countdown is on ahead of Tokyo 2020 and TASS alumnus Tom Somers has a spring in his step following this year’s GB senior debut. We caught up (but only just) with the talented sprinter.

It was five years ago when a teenage Tom Somers announced himself as a sprint star of the future – clocking the second fastest Under 17 200m time after Usain Bolt.

That wonderful World Junior Championships race in Oregon forced coaches and rival athletes to sit up and take notice as the Yorkshireman unleashed his untapped talent and suggested the decision to step away from elite Rugby Union could pay dividends.

Fast forward to 2019 and Somers has made good on that early promise. Earlier this year he won a first senior GB vest at the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow and the ambitious track star already has his sights set firmly on Tokyo 2020.

“It’s a realistic target and it’s well within reach,” said Somers. “I have a lot more to come and will be back to my best this season. Between now and next summer I need to train hard and do everything right on and off the athletics track. Come the Olympics I need to know that I couldn’t have done anything differently – or anything more – to get to Tokyo.”

Even before he came within a whisker of equalling Bolt’s world best junior time, Somers was inspired by the fleet-footed Jamaican. It was the all-conquering sprinter’s London 2012 masterclass that inspired the promising Rugby Union player to focus fully on chasing his track dream.

“I started athletics very late and I remember racing home from training one night to make it in time for the men’s 100m final at London 2012,” added Somers. “I was hooked from that moment. I loved watching Usain Bolt with the charisma he had on the start line and the dominance he had at the championships.”

Seven years later Somers was lining up in Glasgow as one quarter of the GB men’s 4 x 400m relay team. Taking the third leg he contributed to a fifth-place finish in the final behind Belgium, Spain, France and Poland.

“The whole Glasgow experience was amazing,” he added. “I have never heard a crowd roar as loud as they did when we walked out onto the track. It was a very special moment being able to earn a first international senior vest at a home championship.

“Going into the European indoors my main aim was to be selected in the final four for the relay and hopefully pick up a medal.

“I wouldn’t have changed anything about my experience at the championships as I thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt a lot. It was completely different from any Youth, Junior or Under 23 championships I’ve been too.

“But the most important lesson I learned is how best to spend the days before racing as I arrived at the championships on Wednesday and had to wait until Sunday to race.”

Somers insists he will never stop learning. And the Loughborough University graduate showed a genuine appetite for education as he picked up a first class honours degree in Sports Coaching at the same time as he chased glory on the track.

“I worked really hard throughout the three years,” he added. “With lots of help I was able to find the optimal way to learn and revise.

“With the setbacks I have had over the years I quickly realised I could be one big injury away from having to stop competing in sport.

Therefore, I decided I needed work hard in my studies, as sport may not last forever. I want to be set up for life after sport.”

During his time as a Loughborough University undergraduate, TASS supported Somers through the good times…and the bad. He added: “TASS support – and particularly the medical package – was vitally important to me because of the serious injuries I sustained.

“I had access to support usually reserved for full-time athletes and that enabled me to improve in areas where I was weak. TASS allowed me to work alongside world class coaches, sports science staff and mentors.”

With that experience in the bank, a fully fit Somers is focusing on making giant strides during the outdoor season.

“In April I’m off to Lisbon on a training camp,” he added. “I can train a little bit harder because of the guaranteed good weather. We will be starting to train in the 95% zone, putting in the final preparation and adding the final touches ahead of the outdoor season.

“This summer is vitally important for me as it is my last year in the Under 23 age group before I become a senior athlete.

“Making the Under 23 European Championships is a high priority and I’m hoping to qualify in an individual event. Additionally, qualifying for and making the World Championships team in Qatar in October is a longer-term target.

“The plan for the year is to focus mainly on running the 400m but I will still be running 200m races too – I can’t fully let go of the event yet!”

Tom Somers and Libby Clegg at the Anniversary Games in London (Handout)

Somers did let go of Rugby Union but with this autumn’s World Cup in Japan on the horizon does he wish he was heading to Tokyo a year early?

“I don’t have any regrets about choosing athletics,” he insisted. “Don’t get me wrong – I do miss playing rugby. But the sport has evolved a lot since I last played and everyone is getting a lot bigger and quicker. I don’t think my body would be able to handle the contact now.

“I still watch and follow rugby. One of the best young players is Tom Curry who is starting for the senior team at seven – he’s an incredible ball carrier, tackler and one of the workhorses in the team. But just look at him. He’s a lot bigger than me!”

Somers might have been forced to drop the oval ball but his athletics career extends beyond the men’s 400m. At the 2018 Anniversary Games in London he was the designated guide for double Paralympic champion Libby Clegg.

The pair scooped gold in their first race together – the T11 200m – and Somers added: “That was another amazing experience. I never expected to do something like that and I was lucky to work with an amazing coach who helped me to pick up the technique very quickly. If I’m needed in the future then it’s definitely something I’d love to do again.”