Five years ago, Tom Gale could have said no when a teacher asked him to enter his first ever high jump competition at a local schools event. Two years ago a bar set at 2.17m that he clattered could have easily gone down and ended his World Junior dream. Last year a European Junior Championships of the highest ever standard could have seen him simply get lost in the mix.
However, Tom said yes, the bar stayed up, and now the European Junior bronze medallist is all geared up for his first ever senior international competition, heading to the Gold Coast for next month’s Commonwealth Games.
Despite last year proving to be one that saw him reach those all-new heights (pardon the pun) – his 2.17m jump at the England Under-20 Championships in 2016 has proved to be a defining moment – a jump that could so easily have gone the other way for the 19-year-old.
“During the competition I had definitely shown good form,” says Tom “so I knew that I could do the 2.17m jump, but how the actual jump happened was that I hit the bar very hard and it only just managed to stay on.
“I’ve had a few conversations with my coach talking about what would have been if it hadn’t stayed on. Would I have been selected for the World Juniors? Would I have been as confident for the (2017) European Juniors and would I have then been able to medal? So it’s very much a case of one very lucky jump that made a huge difference.”
After medalling at junior level, the Bath athlete soon started to prove himself as more than a match for just about anyone, jumping a 2.30m personal best the week after at the AAA and UK CAU Inter-Counties Championships in Bedford. The clearance sent a pulse racing among athletics fans across the country, with Tom being just the second junior after British senior record holder Steve Smith to achieve that height.
The teenager then featured alongside world medallists Mutasz Essa Barshim and Majd Eddin Ghazal in the IAAF Diamond League. It all came at a fast and unexpected pace, but perhaps that was appropriate considering how he initially entered the sport.
Four years ago, athletics was just another sport that Gale had tried getting into, but found it wasn’t for him. This followed joining a club where he mainly took part in running.
For a time that looked to be the end of his ventures in athletics, until one teacher happened to notice the “springy” young school-boy as he was taking part in P.E.
“I was in year nine at the time,” says Gale “my teacher literally just asked me ‘do you want to compete and try to qualify for the county championships?’. She knew me from P.E. and I was quite springy and good at jumping so I thought ‘yeah, why not give that a go?’.
“I then won the qualification competition and happened to win county championships, so someone asked me if I wanted to start training and competing for them. So I thought ‘well I’ve got nothing better to do on a Tuesday and Thursday night, so why not?’
“It was literally just luck that she noticed I was good at jumping and it was also just something for me to do during the week, that’s the power of staying in athletics!”
The sport that once filled two days in his week is now firmly at the forefront of his life, with each season since he started in 2013 providing a host of positives.
But his 2.30m jump last year also proved to be slightly bittersweet, being an “incredible” world qualifying jump that came at the wrong time. While athletes with the same, or lower PBs got to take on the world in London last year, Tom was watching from the sidelines.
“It was a hugely difficult experience,” says Tom “I was feeling in such good shape, even just walking around the arena on the day, I felt that I could have just absolutely jumped out of my skin.
“Me and my coach weren’t aiming for it though, so it would have been very rushed and even though I felt good on the day, I’m not sure how that would have translated into my jumping.”
But now this one slightly dark patch can be swept to one side, with the looming Commonwealth Games putting Tom in confident mood. A first senior international can very often be overwhelming, yet the English Schools champion wants to do more than just make up the numbers.
“I’m definitely aiming to medal,” says Tom “Derek Drouin (Olympic and Commonwealth champion) isn’t there, which means I’m going in ranked joint-second…I think I can be hugely competitive and try for a medal.
“On the other hand, if I don’t (get a medal) I won’t be heartbroken. I’m still so young and it’s my first senior international, but to be fair it has come at a good time. Hopefully after it I can be able to qualify for this year’s Europeans, then the Worlds next year and hopefully the 2020 Olympics. So I’d say that I see (the Commonwealth Games) as more of a stepping stone rather than being thrown in the deep end straight away.”
Rest assured there won’t be too much pressure on Tom this spring, but after finishing last season on such an impressive note, a medal down under would be the perfect way to show everyone that this springy teenager can become a force to be reckoned with.