A Lincolnshire distance runner selected for the 10,000m race at the Tokyo Olympic Games is looking to do his county and his country proud, but he’s already done that and more for his Grimsby-based parents.
The Lincolnite caught up with Helen and Bob Atkin, parents of Team GB Olympic hopeful Sam Atkin, who will be running in the 10,000m event at the Tokyo games, an event that Sir Mo Farah famously won two gold medals in at the 2016 and 2012 Olympics.
During an incredibly emotional interview, with tears of joy and pride from parents Helen and Bob, they reminisced about Sam’s introduction into running and the obstacles he had to face along the way.
Sam originally, and rather ironically, grew up playing as a goalkeeper in football, but it wasn’t until a cross country race at school where his true talents were realised.
Helen and Bob told The Lincolnite: “When he was 11, there was a cross country race at Healing school in Grimsby, and we told him if he finished in the top 10 we’d give him £100.
“There were some vey good runners out there, some who were training regularly, and Sam beat them by miles. We had parents looking around saying ‘wow, look at that boy so far in front!’
“That was the moment we knew he was special, we decided to sign him up for a running club straight after that.”
Sam then joined Grimsby Harriers, winning every race he ran in, before eventually moving onto Lincoln Wellington at the age of 15 because he was getting so quick that he would win adult races.
While at Lincoln, Helen and Bob, who live in Grimsby, would have to drive Sam to and from training each day while juggling his school work and their own jobs at HMRC and Associated British Ports respectively, working flexible hours to support their son.
His dad Bob said: “We always knew he had talent, but it’s the unrivalled spirit and determination he has, you could almost call it stubbornness, which is just about the only thing I can claim he got from me!”
His next big step came at 18-years-old, when he was offered a scholarship in Idaho in the United States of America.
Sam currently lives and trains in Idaho, meaning his contact with his family has been limited, particularly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Success appears to run deep in the Atkin family, as Sam’s twin sister Jen is the reigning Miss Great Britain.
Helen said that the twins were huge parts of one another’s careers and successes, thanks to the “special bond” they both have.
Sam qualified for the Olympic Games in dramatic fashion, after narrowly missing out on the 5,000m qualifying time, which is his preferred event, but then went on to run the now 5th fastest 10k in UK history.
Sam nearly missed the call up to the Olympic squad entirely after changing his phone, but in a rather poignant sequence of events, he found out the news while back at home with his parents.
Bob explains: “He got a new phone number, but the Team GB selectors had his old number so they couldn’t get through to him. Eventually his agent was contacted and he let Sam know, but Sam didn’t tell us for 30 minutes! We were stunned into silence when he told us.”
His heat run will take place at 12.40pm on Friday, July 30, and Sam’s parents will be watching the race from home, but in different rooms!
“We both get very nervous watching Sam run,” Helen explains. “When we went to events with him I’d be at one end of the field and Bob would be at the other end.”
Sam is set to be the only self-funded runner of the 29 competitors in the event, giving him an underdog status that his dad Bob says he thrives under.
“It’s like Grimsby Town being chucked into the Premier League, it sounds negative but trust me it’s not, wherever he finishes he’ll make us proud.
“When he was younger we just used to tell him to run as fast as he can, now that he’s reached the top level, the advice gets tougher, so we sent him a message to go with his Team GB kit that just read: ‘Keep your head up and get on with it’.
“We cannot express the pride we feel for him, it’s all too much to be honest with you. Make no mistake about it, he’s earned his way there and he deserves this so much.”