Team GB's Tom Bosworth: 'I want to be seen as just another athlete'
Last year, Tom Bosworth became the first male British track and field athlete to come out publicly when he announced his sexuality on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show.
Now the 26-year-old race walker is one of over 40 LGBT athletes getting ready to represent their countries in Rio. Attitude's Anthony Lorenzo caught up with Tom to talk about qualifying for the games, being the new Olympic Ginger Hottie on the block (Greg Rutherford, we still love you), and the ins and outs of his little-known sport...
A: Firstly, congratulations on heading to Rio!
T: thank you so much!
So how did it feel to qualify?
It was quite relaxed, the actual day. I treated it the same as any other race day, and ended up winning the race comfortably. My partner and family came, and they don’t normally get to see me race because I’m often on another continent. They were all there to share that moment, and that was the most special thing I think. It made it really worth it. All those nights sacrificed, not seeing people, all the training.
Now you’ve qualified, do you feel a new sense of pressure? It doesn’t get bigger than the Olympics!
I think, with my world ranking being close to the top 20, I don’t feel that much pressure. I’m still an underdog. I’ve won some international races this year, and taken a lot of people by surprise. It’s a nice feeling; I like being the underdog, and I’m just going to try and finish as high as possible, and match my performance in March, and surprise people again.
You’re one of the few Olympic athletes to come out. Do you know any of the others?
I’m really looking forward to being a flag-bearer for LGBT athletes and LGBT people in general. I will talk to anybody! I’m a sociable person, but don’t yet know any of the other gay athletes personally. I briefly spoke to some of the hockey girls [recently-married Kate and Helen Walsh]. But I didn’t feel like I had to do that. When you do come out in the public, you’ve got to have that support already there. We probably have all had similar experiences. I’m really hoping more people come out, not necessarily publicly, but you, know, come out and live openly.
There should be a good gay presence at the Olympics this year.
Yeah, I think there is an LGBT house this year, which would be great. It’s great that the LGBT sports community can come together to celebrate, because sports can be a very intimidating place for LGBT people. The Olympics is a big party and a celebration of sport, and everyone should be included in that. I want to be seen as just another athlete though, as well as an LGBT athlete.
So race walking: What's it actually like?
It’s great because it’s so unheard of. We haven’t seen success in the sport in many years [Ian McCombie has the record, which he achieved in 1988 at the Seoul Olympics]. But in the last year people are really starting to understand it, and it’s getting the respect it deserves. It isn’t just a walk in the park! There have been many years of getting the event out there. It’s not an easy event to do.
The rules state you have to have one foot on the ground at all times...
Yes, and you have to have a straight leg, which I think is the hardest bit, its technically challenging. But that’s what I love about it.
How did you got into race walking? It’s a very niche sport!
Well, my sister did it, and her friend did it . Quite a few athletics clubs have events going on, and its growing again, so I went along, that’s how I got into it. I loved it straight away. I had a great first coach, Peter Selby. You don’t want too much pressure at 12 years old, and he was fantastic.
What do you like most and least about the sport?
I hate the long cold miles in winter, and it can be quite lonely doing 20-30k every day, because I do a lot of it on my own. I’ve got a coach and training partners but nobody does quite the same as I do. But all the rewards are so personal to you; only you can achieve them, and I think that’s the most special thing. Winning is pretty good, and setting a new personal best. That’s what keeps you going.
You recently tweeted about the potential lifting of the ban on Russian athletes competing in track and field events. What’s your take on the doping scandal?
People have been saying its bad press for [Russian athletes] but I don’t think it is. It hasn’t been right in Russia for a long time, and the athletes don’t get the respect they might deserve because they’re treated like robots. We know that this had to come out for us to move on. I’m happy to see the media covering it. I want to compete against clean athletes. Let them compete clean! It’s gone on way too long now.
You say you’re just another athlete, but you do know you’re now referred to as the new Olympic Ginger Hottie, right?
[Laughs] I’ll just embrace all of it. It’s a massive compliment, and everything I’m doing is to inspire, even just one individual.
We hear that you and your partner have just celebrated your fifth anniversary. Congratulations! What’s the secret to your longevity?
Probably me spending half the year away! It’s more challenging dealing with being away so long. I used to love going away to camps, but now I hate it because I get so homesick and miss him so much. Him being understanding of what I do, living a boring lifestyle and training 24/7 is great. I couldn’t be with someone who didn’t get that, and he’s brilliant. I put most of my success down to him because I’m in a happy and stable relationship. He’s changed my life completely.
He must be proud of having an Olympian boyfriend!
Yes, and his family have been unbelievably supportive. I’ve got to do well now after all this!
Well we’re allowed to get married now: Have you thought about that in the future?
Definitely, we’ve talked about it. It’s not far away.
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