Callum Hawkins may be Team GB’s Sapporo surprise

Scotland’s Callum Hawkins is Great Britain & Northern Ireland’s great Olympic marathon hope and with good reason. Twice in successive major championships the man from Renfrewshire has come within a whisker of a global medal. In London in 2017 he ran through the pack, closing with every step from 30k but ultimately running out of tarmac. At the 40k mark he lay 59 seconds off Tamirat Tola in silver, by the end the margin was just 28. A ninth place in Rio and just twelve months later a fourth in a World Championships.

When Doha came around two years later few tipped him. With temperatures at 29*C we had been here before and it had ended cruelly. On the Gold Coast in April 2018 Hawkins was 2 minutes 17 seconds clear of Australia’s Michael Shelley with 40km completed. By elite standards he could almost crawl his way to gold. That day even that he couldn’t, collapsing by the side of road ruined by heat exhaustion.

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Doha would be hotter and that would surely not play to the Scotsman’s hands. How wrong we were. Seventeen seconds back at 35k Hawkins caught and passed the front group. Through 40k he led a five man group who would contest the medals. Hawkins closed hard, three others closed harder and once more he would have to settle for fourth, six seconds from bronze.

How fast do you have to run to win an Olympic medal?

By modern standards Hawkins is unusual as a marathon man, chasing global medals over fast times and big city wins. Since Doha he has competed in just one city marathon, London in 2019 where he earned his personal best. And yet despite this only two Brits have ever run faster than Hawkins 2.08.14 best, Sir Mo Farah and former world record holder Steve Jones.

On a global stage it is less impressive, 189 men have run faster since 2019 and 512 in history but tradition tells us that fast times and Olympic medals don’t always match up.

With the exception of Sammy Wanjiru’s electrifying Olympic record rarely will an athlete make one long bid for Olympic glory. The stakes are simply too high. With a measured race up front Hawkins bid for an Olympic medal could grow that bit stronger.

Whilst the time required to win Olympic gold has got quicker, it has tended to lag the world record at that time by on average 4.00% since 1992. The bronze medal lags by on average by 5.08%.

YearGold Time AthleteSilver Time AthleteBronze Time AthleteWR at the Time 
19922.13.23Hwang Young-Cho2.13.45Koichi Morishita2.14.00Stephan Freigang2.06.50 (Belayneh Dinsamo)
19962.12.36Josia Thugwane2.12.39Lee Bong-Ju2.12.44Erick Wainaina2.06.50 (Belayneh Dinsamo)
20002.10.11Gezahegne Abera2.10.31Erick Wainaina2.11.10Tesfaye Tola2.05.42 (Khalid Khannouchi)
20042.10.55Stefano Baldini2.11.29Meb Keflezighi2.12.11Vanderlei de Lima2.04.55 (Paul Tergat)
20082.06.32Samuel Wanjiru2.07.16Jaouad Gharib2.10.00Tsegay Kebede2.04.26 (Haile Gebreselassie)
20122.08.01Stephen Kiprotich2.08.27Abel Kirui2.09.37Wilson Kipsang2.03.38 (Patrick Makau)
20162.08.44Eliud Kipchoge2.09.54Feyisa Lilesa2.10.05Galen Rupp2.02.57 (Dennis Kimetto)
Gold Medal Differential Between World Record (at that time)Silver Medal Differential between World Record (at that time)Bronze Medal Differential between World Record (at that time)

Taking the current world record (Eliud Kipchoge’s 2.01.39) we could on average estimate that this year’s winner will run somewhere approaching 2.06.31, enough to take Wanjiru’s record by just one second. To earn bronze we could expect a time of somewhere around 2.07.50.

Predicted Gold Medal TimePredicted Silver Medal Time Predicted Bronze Medal Time 
Tokyo 20202.06.312.06.532.07.50

Whilst this estimate is rudimentary it does show us one thing. A bronze medal could be within Hawkins’ grasp. To seize it he will have to run the race of his life, something he has done several times before. Whilst down on paper, Hawkins has demonstrated he has the ability to run faster.

Callum Hawkins’ 2021 build-up

Hawkins’ 2021 has been quiet with only one goal in mind. Some pacing work in Scotland and the British Marathon Trials (where he was already pre-selected) have been accompanied by warm weather training in Pollença, Majorca. When it hasn’t been Spain, his garage has served its purpose through a treadmill and a couple of electric heaters, a low cost alternative to high performance heat chambers. Little social media, virtually no press, Hawkins is benefitting from an audience looking elsewhere, something which will continue in Japan.

With the men’s marathon due to take place in Sapporo, Hawkins will return to the country with fond memories. It was in Marugame to the south where he first announced himself to an international audience, winning the Half Marathon in 60.00 to break the Scottish record. And it will be on the island of Hokkaido where he hopes to cement that status. With a Kenyan and Ethiopian team packed full of world-class talent, they may be looking inward for their greatest challenge. If they do Hawkins may well make it third time lucky and snatch that global medal.

On Saturday 7 August at 23.00 British time, switch on the TV and find out if he does.

For Callum Hawkins and all the other Olympic contenders, check out our preview below.

Featured image “Hawkins and Griffiths” by Rayonick is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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