Joe Thomas will be Wales’s sole representative this weekend as he strives for a podium finish and to build on a scintillating period of form.
The 800m runner’s star has soared during a winter season which has seen him record six successive lifetime bests and slash the Welsh 800m record in Stockholm by almost a second, with a time of 1.46.33, making him the fourth fastest man this year in the event.
And the 24-year-old from Pontypridd, who trains in Cardiff with coach Arwyn Davies, has done this all without any funding and following years of illness and injury which have hampered his progress.
Speaking as he packed before the championships in Istanbul, he said: “I think it’s the first winter I have had where I haven’t had any injury problems or illness. The solid winter has laid good foundations to make a really consistent bit of racing that has been going on.
“It’s perfect, it couldn’t have come better, so I am really pleased that it’s all coming together at the right time. This is definitely the fittest I have ever been.”
But Thomas confesses all the time trials and personal bests come second to his love of racing. “I hate chasing times, I am all about racing,” he said. “I am not much of a time trialler but that has been going so well it has given me a lot of confidence for when I race this weekend.”
The alternative-looking music mad runner is currently seventh in the world rankings and if he carries this form into the summer he could be making his Olympic debut in London.
“They say it’s a 1.52 second differential when you go outdoors so I am well within the Olympic ‘A’ standard with this indoor form,” he said.
“It’s every athletes dream and it’s on the radar now. It’s giving me a lot of motivation and with it being a home Olympics as well it’s going to be even more special, kind of like a double whammy, so I would be really excited to get in the team for the summer.”
And if he did qualify for the Olympics it would bookend a remarkable period of perseverance.
Until this season, health problems have plagued his training and preparations and caused him to lose all funding. Thomas was briefly on the Lottery programme after showing potential four years ago, but was dropped after missing almost an entire season with an undiagnosed stomach problem which caused him to lose a lot of weight and strength.
Further injury troubles played havoc with his training until this winter where he has had an uninterrupted spell to show the world, and sponsors, just what he is capable of.
Relying on the support of his parents – his father, Ross, manages a financial recovery company, and his mother, Sandra, is a teacher’s assistant – he has got himself into a position where the Olympic final is within his reach.
“I have had to do it all off my own back really,” he said. “It’s not been the easiest thing in the world, like trying to find money, but hopefully now with this indoor bit of form I have come into it should change things.
“I live at home so that helps out a lot and I have got really supportive parents and they sort out all my food. But I have struggled to go to certain places and do stuff I should be doing due to a lack of funds which is a bit annoying,” he added.
The former UWIC student has made it to where he is in the best traditions of amateur athletics, through grit and determination. But Thomas is a testament to just how hard it is to make it in athletics in Wales at the moment. Being the sole representative of the nation at this weekend’s indoor championships is a role he is sadly familiar with.
“It was a similar place last year for the European indoors when I was the only Welsh person as well,” he said. “I just think we don’t really get many people who get these chances to run for Great Britain. Obviously Dai Greene and a couple of others have chosen not to do an indoor season but it was the same last year.”
But even with his star in the ascendency, Thomas is keeping his feet firmly on the track. He knows a strong run this weekend in front of the world’s media will improve his prospects of gaining vital sponsorship and funding. But more importantly, it will allow him to do more of what he does best – race.