HE has sampled the bright lights of London, and competed and trained in some of the best venues in the world, but for Olympic long jumper Chris Tomlinson, there is no place like home.
Having spent the best part of a decade living in the capital, Tomlinson returned to his native Middlesbrough almost a year ago following the birth of his second child.
He spent the winter training with sprinter Richard Kilty, who burst on to the world scene so spectacularly earlier this year when he claimed the World Indoor 100m title, and is part of a growing contingent of Teesside athletes who are threatening to create something of a golden generation.
Loading article content
At the age of 32, Tomlinson is comfortably the group's elder statesman. But that doesn't make him any less excited to be flying the flag for his hometown.
“I'm loving being back in the North-East,” he said. “It's something that just really happened when we had our second baby. We wanted a bigger place, looked at what we could afford in London, and basically thought, 'Right, it's a no-brainer, let's head back up to Middlesbrough'.
“I suppose it was a lifestyle rather than a sporting choice, but it's turned out to be brilliant both ways. I had a great winter training at Clairville Stadium, Gateshead Stadium and Maiden Castle, and even did some running on the beach down at South Gare. I hadn't done that for years, but I loved it.
“Athletics is getting pretty good here on Teesside. We've got Richard, who has obviously done amazingly this year, but there's also people like Jack Crosby, who's posted some great junior 400m times, and Christian Carson, who's still very young but who has run 10.4 for the 100m. There's some good athletes coming through, and it's exciting to be a part of that.”
While most of Tomlinson's training partners are at the start of their career, the former British record holder is undoubtedly closer to the end of his competitive days than the beginning.
Yet he remains confident his greatest successes could still be in front of him despite a career that has seen him win World Indoor silver and European outdoor bronze, and compete in two Olympic finals.
There are a number of world-class athletes currently competing in their mid-to-late 30s, and Tomlinson is hoping to follow in their footsteps as he plots a course to the Rio Olympics in two years time.
“The time when I sit back and think, 'I don't think I can jump 8.35m again', is the time I'll know I'm ready to retire,” he said. “But that still feels like it's a long way off.
“The sport of athletics is changing, and people are looking after themselves much better nowadays. Look at someone like Kim Collins – he won a world title in 2003 but he's still posting new PBs at 37. Dwain Chambers is running fast at 36 or 37, and (Yamile) Aldama won a World Indoor title in triple jump when she was 39. There's a lot of people out there doing it in their late 30s.”
Tomlinson will attempt to emulate them by winning Commonwealth and European medals this summer, and while last weekend's seasonal debut in Doha did not go to plan as he recorded three no jumps in extremely windy conditions, he is happy with his general form.
A winter hip injury restricted his training, and no doubt contributed to the rustiness that was evident in the Middle East, but he is confident of producing some extremely competitive performances as the season unfolds.
“I feel like I'm in pretty good shape,” he said. “It was disappointing to start with three no jumps, but they would all have been pretty decent if they were legal, and with the last two in particular I only really brushed the plasticine.
“I'm looking forward to going pretty long this summer, and hopefully that'll enable me to get on to the podium for at least one of the major events.
“In purely athletics terms, the Europeans would normally be the priority. But with the Commonwealths taking place in Glasgow, they're assuming a much higher profile. The atmosphere will be brilliant, and it would be nice to be able to perform in a major final in front of family and friends.”
Both championships could bring Tomlinson into competition with Olympic champion Greg Rutherford, and the pair caused headlines recently when Tomlinson questioned the validity of the 8.51m jump in San Diego that saw Rutherford remove the Teessider's name from the British record books.
Tomlinson claims that video footage proves Rutherford overstepped the mark at take off, but USA Track and Field have declared the jump legal and it is unlikely that the IAAF will overrule their decision.
“It's put to bed now,” said Tomlinson. “I've said my piece, and I'm glad I did. Some of what has been quoted has been taken completely out of context, but I stand by my criticisms.
“It was a mickey mouse meeting with no proper plastic or anything. People within the athletics world have seen the pictures and footage and they've made their own mind up. But whatever happens from now on, what will be, will be.”