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James Thie

James Thie

James Thie

‘Running for my Dinner Money’ by Paul Grech

It would have been the ideal way for British athletics to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sir Roger Bannister’s historic sub-4 minute mile. Yet the joy for Michael East’s third place finish and subsequent bronze medal in the 1,500 m at the World Indoor Championships held in Budapest was as short-lived as it was unexpected.

Amidst the disappointment for East’s dramatic disqualification, the fact that another Briton – James Thie – came within just 0.4 seconds of a place on the podium did not garner the attention that it probably deserved.

Undeniably, for Thie the final fifth place finish was a memorable result particularly as it was his first major championship final. Along with East, he is considered as one of the rising hopes of British middle distance running. The Welsh record holder over both the Indoor 1,500m and the mile, his constant treks between the United States and Europe have earned him a reputation of being an athlete who will go anywhere for a race.

Two Races in Two Continents in the Space of 16 hours
That reputation was further enhanced earlier this year when Thie took part in two high profile races within sixteen hours of each other. No mean feat in itself, except that the events in questions took place in two different continents.

Just twenty minutes after finishing second in the Wanamaker Mile at Madison Square Garden in New York, Thie was on his way to the JFK airport to get back to Sheffield in time for the National AAA 1,500m heats due to take place the following day.

So how did he end up in such a situation? “I wanted to say thanks to New York AC for their help, but I wanted to run in the world indoors, so I made a plan to do both!” Thie explains. “The fact that the heats of the UK championships got cancelled almost ruined my plans as I thought that I would have an easy heat race not the final. But as it turns out me grabbing silver that day made the story.”

“The funny thing was that at 1:15 a.m. UK time when the Mile kicked off, all my rivals would have been fast a sleep whilst I still had 3,000 miles to travel! At the end, I can say that I had fun.”

“I have always said that if you come second in race you better have a great story or no one will care!”

Talking to Thie, it is immediately apparent that he is an easygoing person who does not take himself too seriously. Which is not to say that he isn’t serious about his sport. Not only does he have to go through the same punishing training regime as all top athletes but he has to do so far away from his family.

The choice to base most of his training in the US was a pragmatic one but came about largely by chance. “It is all because I have been given more chances to prove myself out there. I went on a road trip at the end of the 2002 summer and ran my first sub 4 minute in San Francisco (3:58.24), then went on to place second in the 5th Avenue Road Mile in New York running 3:56.”

“The guys at New York AC were very impressed and asked whether I wanted to come out and race that winter indoors. I did, winning most of races and therefore in their eyes I ‘proved myself’. Now they are happy to have me come out and race.”

A Refreshing change from the negative support back home
“Overall I just enjoy racing in the USA and the people out there have just been great, refreshing from the negative support back home.”

Looking at the list of his recent successes – the Mile of the Gods in Oregon, the Collegiate Invitational Mile and the Mile New Balance Games both in New York as well as the Bermuda Elite Road Mile – it is impossible not to notice one common element: all are mile events.

Which is rather ironic, considering that in Britain the popularity of races over this distance seems to be declining. Thie agrees, although his reason for running these events is often financially motivated. “Even though the UK is the home of the mile, the US has loads of road mile races.”

“For me, that is where I can pick up my rent and bills money! It is difficult as I don’t have a sponsor so all my money comes from prize money. The worry is that I’m only an injury away from a 9-5 job. When fit, however, I can chase the dollars on the mile circuit: call it running for my dinner!”

Any discussion about mile races cannot but turn back to the celebrations of Sir Roger Bannister’s amazing run fifty years ago which commemorations have helped put the spotlight back on middle distance event.

More Could Have Been Done
However, Thie feels that much of the momentum created by this event has been lost. Much more could have been done to help British middle distance runners, “if not money for guys (taking part in a mile race), a fund for young milers could have helped. The attention on any track event has to be fully used as we struggle to get any positive media coverage.”

Even so, he envisages a bright future for British middle-distance, despite the various reports suggesting its demise. “There are many really positive things coming out. We have loads of very good under 20’s coming through. Added to that, when Michael East and myself made it through the heats at the World Indoors, it was the first time in 20 years that Britain had two finalists in a male middle-distance event on the world stage.” Hopefully, such results will help inspire the next generations of athletes.

Still, a return to the good old days where most British schoolboys wanted to follow in the footsteps of Sebastian Coe seems unlikely. “Because of all the demands on children and all other factors, we will never have the numbers we once had, so we need to concentrate on those coming through. If this is done then we will have more guys making it to the top and that would be great to see.”

For Thie to make it to the top, he has to become a fixture in the finals of major championships. The result at the World Indoors seems to have whet his appetite. “The whole experience was great. I love the indoor scene with the crowd, the feeling of the bends. I can’t wait for the European indoors next year where I will totally show my indoor ability”. This eagerness to do well in the indoor scene does have its pitfalls, as Thie freely admits. “Some people say I’m just an indoor runner, but I just feel good to have success anywhere. I know what’s to come as I know 1500m is just that indoors and out so I can’t wait to fulfil my potential outdoors.”

‘I Will Give it my best shot’
The first step on that particular road would be qualification for the Olympics. “I have aimed all my training and racing to try and make the team. I have cut out US races that I would have done. I will give it my best shot and that’s all I can do. Once there, then its time to really use my world indoor experience on the highest level.”

If Thie does make it into the team, it will probably be alongside Michael East. “Me and Mike have been racing each other since the age of 12 years old so we know all about each other. He’s a nice, clever guy with bags of talent, but is willing to work hard for results. I hope he remembers me saying all these nice things when we next race!”

Despite these words of respect and camaraderie, Thie does not shy away from throwing the gauntlet at his rival. “I’m looking forward to racing Mike this year. By the look in eyes after each of the races, I think the world indoors gave Mike a shock, where I think he realised that I wasn’t that far from his heels. We shall see whether I can get any closer!”

Thie’s ambitions are not limited at getting closer to East. Apart from the next European indoor championships, he’s looking forward to the “Commonwealth Games in 2006. I would like to keep up my travels and do some more events that are slightly different to the rest.” By which you get the feeling he means more trekking round the globe.

Yet the biggest dream is that of an Olympic medal. “If you don’t dream to hit the very top then what’s the point? The saying shoot for the stars and hit the moon, is about right. I train hard and hope that will take me far, but you can never put limits on how far that will be. I know that I may not reach the very top, but I will give everything in trying.”

Thank you to www.mensrunning.com for the image

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