Masters Athletics is the scene in which veteran athletes compete in track and field, road running and cross country. The age groups start at age 35 and move up in five yearly categories – i.e. M35 (men over 35), M60 (men over 60), W40 (women over 40) etc.
Tony Bowman and Neil Tunstall are two of Britain’s star athletes. Tony Bowman is a remarkable 82 year old hurdler with absolutely no plans to put his feet up, while Neil Tunstall is a world champion hurdler currently competing in the M55 category. We spoke to them both to gain their unique insights into what Masters Athletics is all about, their amazing achievements and what keeps them going.
KUDOS: How did you come to compete on the Masters Athletics circuit? Have you always competed or did you come to it as a complete novice in later life?
Tony Bowman: I have always loved running and sprinting. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember…some 77 years! At school I won the Middlesex Schools Hurdles at the White City, and when I was 15 I came 2nd in the All-England Schools in Bradford.
I continued competing for Polytechnic Harriers & Garscube Harriers in Glasgow until about 27 years of age, and after that I played hockey for Teddington & Middlesex. I also played and coached tennis.
Neil Tunstall: I have been a member of an athletics club since I was 11 and was always aware of Masters athletics as I knew Maurice Morrell and Leo Carroll who had won medals at some of the early World Championships. I’ve taken part in a number of sports over the years including football, hockey, rugby and basketball but always kept up with some athletics training and competing principally in league matches. When I turned 40 I took part in my first British Champs with my first International champs in Potsdam in 2002 the following year. From that point I have been hooked and my training has had a real focus.
KUDOS: You’ve collected an array of titles and records in Masters athletics – what have been the highlights so far?
TB: I started Masters Athletics at 42 yrs of age so have been competing as a Master for 40 years. I hope to run the 100m when I am 100!
I started hurdling again at about 65 yrs of age and have been doing the Decathlon & Pentathlon since the age of 70. In fact just three weeks ago I became the only athlete over 80 to attempt the Indoor Heptathlon at the Emirates Stadium in Glasgow.
My highlights have been the All England Schools, winning European and world titles at sprints, hurdles, and triple jump. 12 years ago I won the big New Year Sprint in Musselborough, Scotland. It has been running for 150 years and I was the oldest by 31 years to ever to win it. At the same meeting I also won the 90m Vets & the 90m Open. No-one has ever won all 3 races at the same meeting before.
In 2012 I broke the World Record for the 60m Indoor Hurdles & was voted Master Male Athlete of the Year by the Britith Masters Athletics Federation.
Since turning 80 in September 2015 I have broken 13 British records in track & field.
NT: After a number of near misses and honourable 4th places, I won the World Champs 400m hurdles in 2007 at Riccione. My times had been quite consistent over many years as others slowed a bit more than me. Indeed my winning time of 57.71 was with in a tenth of a second off my English school time back in 1980. Since then I have been fortunate to win a number of medals at both sprint and long hurdles along with some exciting relay medals.
KUDOS: What is your training routine? Do you train with a club?
TB: I usually train by myself on the local cricket/football pitches, & the track at Headingley when hurdling, and do circuit training once a week in a group. I also play tennis singles matches in a league once every fortnight. I usually train alternate days.
NT: I train at Cornwall AC and coach my own group of 200/400m runners mainly from our local University athletics club. Our club sessions are Plyos and circuits on Mondays and track Tuesdays and Thursdays. Beyond that I do some weights and some longer running on my own.
KUDOS: What is it that motivates you to keep training and competing? Ever fancy putting your feet up?
TB: I have always enjoyed competition and pushing myself to the limit, which brings a feeling of excitement, satisfaction and relaxation. I feel many years younger than my age! I also go dancing twice a week doing Ballroom, Latin, Salsa and Jive.
I have absolutely no intention of putting my feet up!
NT: The main international Masters meetings are my main targets and everything else is part of the preparation for these events. I love meeting up and competing against my rivals who have become life long friends as well. Everyone is so supportive of each other and we genuinely want everyone to do their best. We talk about our training and how to improve and also how to deal with injuries. It makes for fantastic friendly rivalry which keeps me fully motivate all year round. There is never a question about putting my feet up. I love training, racing and meeting so many inspirational athletes.
KUDOS: With so many achievements already in the bag, what ambitions do you have for the future?
TB: I would like to break my 14th British record by the time I am 85!
NT: At the moment I am focused on winning gold medals at the European Indoors and World Outdoors this year. I am also after a few records having missed out on a European indoor hurdles record on a technical issue last year. Beyond that I hope to stay fit and healthy and able to compete for many years to come.
KUDOS: If you were to recommend Masters Athletics to somebody, how would you sell it?
TB: Masters Athletics can take you all over the world. I’ve competed in places that I would never have dreamed of visiting – South Korea & Puerto Rico and Brazil, for example. The comradeship is wonderful.
NT: It has so many benefits. It is obviously great for your health and wellbeing. It gives you the opportunity to compete against people of your own age and ability in a truly competitive environment and is such good fun. It is also open to all with no entry standards and there is always someone around your standard to compete against even if you are not up to winning medals. Being part of your national team is always very exciting and fills you with pride. I would recommend it to anyone.
Thanks so much to Neil and Tony for their time and insight.
There are currently over 5,000 active athletes from aged 35 upwards, with clubs right across the UK – so if you’ve been inspired by Tony’s and Neil’s stories and fancy getting involved with Masters Athletics, check out their website.
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