From Tokyo to Italy in 766 days: A Tom Gale story

It took 766 days for Tom Gale to return to competition.

The 24-year-old high jumper cleared a personal best 2.33m just before the Covid-19 pandemic to snag the Olympic qualifying mark and a place on the plane to Tokyo 2020.

Jumping a height of 2.28m in qualification punched the Bath native a ticket to the final, finishing 11th overall on his Olympic debut.

But there was something looming in the shadows, a nagging pre-Tokyo injury that would soon see Gale kept from competition for over two years.

It was an injury that would cause so much more than physical pain.

"The setbacks started before the Games," he said.

"I was carrying an injury in my left patellar tendon, which is the tendon just below the kneecap, and I was dealing with tendonitis.

"It reached a peak during that Tokyo final and I was in so much pain I couldn't stand up from my towel without help or sit down myself.

"Stepping into the stadium for the final, that was my last competition for two- and a-bit years."

Gale soon became subject to a horrendous few years of constant injury and chronic knee pain that saw both his physical and mental health take a hit.

He added: "We managed to deal with the pain post-Tokyo but then in May 2022 I tore my right patellar tendon.

"I had a couple of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections to promote a healing response and took a really long time to rehab that and finally got back to training later that year.

"But unfortunately, I tore my tendon again and had to have three more PRP injections as I didn't want another surgery.

"From there, I had to really hold back my rehab every step of the way and make sure I was healthy and if anything reared its head, I had a zero-tolerance policy and had it checked out."

The high jumper found himself trapped in a fierce mental battle, constantly taking one step forward and two steps back.

But the tipping point came in Christmas 2022, Gale summoning the strength to jump out of the darkness he found himself in by leaning on the support of his friends, family and the innate belief that he really was a special talent.

"When it happened again, I was in a point of denial," he said.

"I have dealt with mental health issues over the years and at that time, I was at a horrifically low point and the lowest I've been in my life.

"I had to take myself away from training and forget about sport, instead spending that time focusing on my mental health through journaling.

"I wrote that I had to believe in my talent. It's not about saying you're in a bad place, you're never getting back. That isn't true, the talent is there.

"I'm also one of the very lucky people that has had a massive amount of support, so I had to pick myself up and trust my team and put that effort into get healthy again.

"I really acknowledged those people around me that could help."

Finally on the road to recovery, Gale made the decision to move from Bath to Loughborough in May and now trains alongside British high jump partners Joel Clarke-Khan and Morgan Lake.

Following a slow and steady return to training, the Olympian was thrilled to see such positive progress in both his physical and mental strength, and finally made the leap of a lifetime this September.

Just 766 days since his last competition, Gale entered the Palio Citta' della Quercia in Rovereto, Italy. And he won.

"It's been great to see my progression and actually getting back to my levels of jumping," he said.

"I've missed being in the environment of elite athletes.

"I always count myself as very competitive so the win in Italy wasn't a surprise, but I would have been happier if it was at a higher height.

"I wanted to come out of it as British number one at 2.27m which I know I'm capable of but I haven't been able to have that consistency in training.

"I'm content with the result but I still definitely want more."

And with his eyes now fixed on Paris 2024, the high jumper is convinced it won't be quite so long until his next competitive bout.

He added: "I know I'm going to go into next year and be competitive ahead of Paris and no matter what, I know I'll give it my all.

"I mean in Tokyo I was in loads of pain and I still made the final, so let's see."

Sportsbeat 2023