In full flight: Ben Thomas

AFTER years of hard work on and off the running track, a Carmarthenshire teenager wore the vest of Great Britain & Northern Ireland for the very first time over the weekend at the European Athletics U18 Youth Championships, which took place in Gyor (Hungary).

Ben Thomas, a sixth form pupil at Ysgol Y Strade Comprehensive School in Pwll, Llanelli went from competing for his local Llanelli and Carmarthen clubs to picking up his debut selection for Team GB in the 2,000m Steeplechase watched on by his proud family and friends trackside. The British Athletics team of male and female consisted of thirty-three runners, throwers and jumpers.

Thomas qualified for the championships by running the standard a total of three times. He headed to the BMC Grand Prix event at SportyCity in Manchester, BMC PB Classic in Milton Keynes and England Athletics U20/23 Championships in Bedford and ran sub six minutes in all three to confirm his place on the plane to Hungary.

In the qualifying round, Ben went in the second heat and after overcoming a mid-race argy-bargy, he battled back to qualify for the final having run 6:01:47 in eighth. Last Sunday Evening (8th July), Thomas was back out on the start line for most probably his biggest race of his career so far. Featuring a total of fifteen athletes full of talent, it was always expected to be a top quality battle.

After the first 800m was run with all competitors together, the group started to break up with the Frenchman Guyon breaking away to claim gold by 25 metres. However, the headline back home was on Ben who crossed the line in a new personal best time of 5:53:47, taking almost four-and-a-half-seconds off his previous best. The Welsh athlete put in an excellent final lap rounded off with a strong finish down the home straight to grab ninth.

After the race, Thomas said: “I wanted to do my best in the final so to get a PB, you can’t ask for much more. I was quite tired after the heats so to be able to run quicker tonight is really encouraging. I was may be hoping for a bit quicker but I’m pleased overall.”

“I want to earn more British vests in the future. This has really inspired me to work harder and experience these moments again in the future.”

Looking ahead to next year, he added: “Next year the steeplechase distance is increasing to 3,000m for championship races so I need to slowly increase the mileage and improve the conditioning I do during the winter. Cross Country will no doubt be an important part of that but I am fortunate that I have Pembrey Country Park on my doorstep which is an ideal training base.”

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