By Owen Morgan
Gold Coast Commonwealth Games race walk medallist Bethan Davies has bounced back from illness to gain the nomination standard for next year’s games in Birmingham.
Davies enjoyed an outstanding 2018 season which saw her dominate the domestic scene, compete at the European Championships and take bronze in the 20k race walk in Australia.
Over the past two years, however, the multiple Welsh and British champion has seen her form dip due to a series of immune-related illness and viruses.
But she returned to form in spectacular style last Sunday to win the 10k race walk at the Welsh Athletics Championships and dip well below the 46-minute standard for next year’s Commonwealth Games.
Davies clocked a brilliant 45:21.70 as she finished ahead of her great rival and friend, Heather Lewis.
The Pembrokeshire athlete, who finished seventh at the Gold Coast Games, and like Davies is a multiple Welsh and British champion, just missed out on the nomination standard in a time of 46:36.10.
Lewis was the first to congratulate Davies, who burst into tears of joy when she crossed the line.
Talking to Dai Sport, Davies said: “I am absolutely over the moon. I’ve been so stressed over this standard because I’ve had a dip in performance the last two years, and I’ve been clawing my way back.
“You know, when you start a race and you’re just like, ‘I don’t know which way this is going to go’?
“I actually full on surprised myself. At halfway I dropped the pace because I thought, ‘have I gone too quick? Just hold on!’
“I honestly thought if I did it, it would be literally by a second. But I was quite far inside. So, I’m just absolutely relieved.”
Because of race walking’s strict technique rules which can see competitors serve time penalties and suffer disqualifications, Davies didn’t feel confident of gaining the time until the last few steps.
The Cardiff athlete said: “I didn’t, honestly, not even until probably the last 10 metres because so much can happen in a walk.
“That’s why we all love the event, it’s that you just don’t know what’s going to happen until you cross that line.
” I could have come in with 100 metres to go and had a time penalty. So, I literally was not convinced I’d got it until I crossed that line.”
Davies explained how a series of illnesses affected her form and how the Covid-19 pandemic helped her overcome those difficulties.
“I had quite a few different immunity illnesses like shingles, and cytomegalovirus. And I just seemed to keep picking something up and then have a month or two dip where I didn’t really train that well. And it just kept on happening.
— Andi Drake (@andidrake) August 15, 2021
“Actually, I think the pandemic helped me out. Because it was a year when we didn’t have any contact with anyone. I was protected from germs and diseases.
“I took a long break during the pandemic to get my head back in the game. Because 2018 was such a good year for me and then that dip happened, that was really hard, mentally, because you’re always comparing yourself to your best.
“The pandemic, I used to take myself away, remember why I loved the event and then just slowly build back, keep away from all the germs, be nice and consistent in my training.
“And I’ve just been slowly improving a little by little. Everyone always wants to improve quicker, but it comes eventually.”
Now, Davies can plan for what is a busy and transformative year for the sport of race walking.
“I can concentrate on next year, which is quite an unusual year for the walks, because there’s a lot of changes in distances,” explained Davies.
“I’ve got some decisions to make now about which distance I focus on. The Commonwealth Games is obviously 10k but the other competitions that we’ve got to aim for, we’ve got a choice of 20K or 35K.
“So, I need to make a decision of which way I’m going to go. I’m just so happy that I ticked this box because now I can make some decisions.”
However, as a Welsh athlete, Birmingham and the chance to pull on the red vest is the big one for Davies.
“Obviously, my main priority was always Commonwealth Games.
“Because that’s the one. I think it’s really difficult to describe unless you’re Welsh, you don’t really get how big the Commonwealth Games is.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to have done that time, ticked that box and, fingers crossed, I get selected for the team.”