Athletics News

Tim Duckworth’s journey as a decathlete and now coach

Tim Duckworth's journey as a decathlete and now coach

Injuries ultimately ended Tim Duckworth’s athletics career too soon but so, too, did the former decathlete’s realisation that he preferred who he was away from competition

What does it take to be the best in the world and is it worth the toll?

Tim Duckworth is reliving his halcyon period of the 2018 summer and the winter that followed: the NCAA victory in a score of 8336 that put him third on the British all-time decathlon rankings behind only the great Daley Thompson and double world medallist Dean Macey; the fifth-place finish at the European Championships (where he had led after eight events); and the European indoor silver medal, which was the first international indoor heptathlon medal won by a British man. The performances were outstanding, but the memories are intriguingly mixed.

Aged 27, Duckworth is now a full-time coach accustomed to being mistaken for an athlete when working at meets. He last finished a decathlon almost three years ago, at the 2021 British Championships. A year later, his competitive days were over.

At an age when most combined eventers are approaching their peak, Duckworth was moving on.

As is frustratingly familiar in athletics, physical ailments proved the beginning of the end: persistent knee issues, elbow troubles, a dodgy hip and a fragile hamstring. But it was his mind, rather than his body, that ultimately proved the catalyst for retirement.

Tim Duckworth (Mark Shearman)

Injuries had forced Duckworth away from the insular world of grinding daily in the hope of running faster, throwing further and jumping higher, and he did not want to go back. He had realised something that was, to him, more important than making podiums. Duckworth was a better person when he was not an elite athlete.

“That year when I scored 8300 points, it was all or nothing,” he says. “I didn’t care what happened outside the sport. I didn’t care how people thought of me as a person, it was only athletics.

“It affected a lot of relationships. I had my now wife [American pole vaulter Olivia Gruver] as my girlfriend, but track was my first focus. When I started getting injured I realised there’s a lot more to life than just track and I didn’t want to go back into that state. I really enjoyed knowing that there’s more to life outside of that. I know the type of person I am and I wanted to be the best version of that. There’s a lot of friendships I had neglected that I rekindled and hold really dear.”

It is a fascinating…

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