Charlie Dobson: The 200m prospect who Iwan Thomas tips to break British 400m record

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Charlie Dobson
Dobson won a World Junior 200m silver in 2018 behind fellow Briton Jona Efoloko

Last month, Iwan Thomas was asked who might break his 25-year-old British 400m record.

It was a big prediction, made on scant evidence. Dobson has run the distance only twice.

But Thomas’ tip was not without foundation either. Dobson’s 400m stats may be scarce, but they are also startling.

Last year Dobson ran one 400m, the second of his life. It was good enough to make him the joint fastest Briton – alongside 2016 Olympic finalist Matthew Hudson-Smith – of 2021.

He hasn’t run an individual 400m this season. But the 22-year-old did lead off Loughborough University’s 4x400m team, clocking a hand-timed, unofficial 45.2 seconds – a time that would easily have carried him into an Olympic semi-final last year.

What could he do if he focused 100% on a single lap? He, we and Thomas will all have to wait.

“For this year, for me, the focus is the individual 200m,” Dobson tells BBC Sport. “That is where I am leaning, but the next couple of years… we will see how it goes.”

His decision, like Thomas’ prediction, is backed by data.

In April, he clocked 20.19 over the shorter distance, putting him joint-11th in the UK all-time list, ahead of the likes of Scotland’s 1980 Olympic champion Allan Wells.

Charlie Dobson
His progress delayed by lockdown and injury, Dobson (left) has been stepping up to senior level this year, taking on the likes of seasoned American Mike Rodgers

A week later, he switched from beating legends of the past to besting present-day British rivals, coming home well clear of Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake in a wind-assisted 19.99.

A multi-talented double threat. But Dobson has seen enough of the lows in his short career to stay grounded.

A former world junior silver medallist, he began last season hoping to force his way to Tokyo as part of Britain’s Olympic 4x400m team.

The dream died in the space of a warm-up lap at May’s World Relays in Poland.

“The first day there we had a practise session,” he remembers. “I started jogging a warm-up lap. The first few steps were fine and by the end of the lap, I could barely put weight on it.”

The damage had been done the week before in Coventry. Dobson had a stress fracture of the shin, initially masked by adrenaline and then revealed as he put load through his lower leg once again.

He was on crutches for nearly a month, in a protective boot for another, unable to train at full-tilt for many more.

It was a setback. But also an opportunity.

Dobson is studying the inner workings of the gas turbine engine as part of his aeronautical engineering course at Loughborough. His lay-off was a chance to strip down and clean up his sprint technique, to break it down to its parts and build back better.

“It meant we could go back and work on the very fundamentals of sprinting – working on every tiny muscle that needs improvement, to get that technique right and allow my body to handle the force involved in sprinting fast,” he says.

“I worked on the obliques, the muscles around my foot and the bottom and front of your shin, the big calf muscles, my back, all of which work hard to manage load.

“My coach and I really enjoy looking at data we gather from certain tests, the output on force plates, or, when I got back running, analysing contact time on the ground and stride length with slow motion video.

“When I run now I feel a lot more stable. I can control it a lot better and focus more on my foot placement. It allows me to relax more when I am running.”

As he juggles the fourth year of a five-year degree with a congested summer of athletics, running on the track and blasting the occasional bucket of driving-range balls are two of the few times he can relax.

The Commonwealth Games, just down the road from Loughborough in Birmingham, and the World Championships in Oregon are both pencilled into the schedule.

“The Europeans is the one for my coach, if I have any energy left,” he jokes about the possible third leg of an epic summer.

His diary planning sounds a little like the way he takes on the 400m – go hard, hang tough and hope for the best.

“I like doing the 400s. It is a horrible event, but I enjoy it,” he says.

“I would say the lactic starts biting in the last 100 metres for me. The way I run it is get out fast and hope you are far enough ahead that no-one can catch you.”

So far this year, Dobson has been setting a pace few can match.

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