Some say he’s part gazelle, and that he has the same jumping force of five kangaroos. Of course, none of that is true, because Mathew Thompson is a grade 10 student at EMCS, who’s not only 100 per cent human, but also a very gifted runner.
So gifted in fact, he toppled the Vancouver Island high school 1500 meter steeple chase course record by a large margin with a time of 4:37:47, according to his coach, Matt Mortenson — a record set by Grade 12 students, no less. Thompson also placed second overall in the Vancouver Island 3000 meters only five seconds behind the winner, qualifying in both events for the Provincials.
This ability lends itself to an incredible amount of stamina, something Thompson points out proved evident during his time playing soccer.
“In soccer, I was mid-field, I had a lot of stamina wandering off the field, and after the soccer games, everyone was panting, and I’m like, okay, that was good,” he said.
Eventually the word got around, and in Grade 7, he said his teachers started encouraging him to put his running capability to much better use.
“My teachers started telling me about track and cross-country, because in phys-ed I was doing really well in the runs,” he said, adding that he’s been involved in track-running sports for the last three years.
“In Grade 8 I got convinced to join the cross-country team and broke two city records; I was two seconds off the other one.”
Thomson said that after he did that in Grade 8, it felt really good, so he just kept running.
But being gifted doesn’t exactly give you a straight shot at the gold, notes Mortenson, who’s been Thompson’s coach for the last several years.
“It’s not automatic, there’s still work that you have to do. But to do that work, you have to be motivated, so to get those top times, you have to put it all together,” he said, pointing out that it’s a mix of dedication, gifted potential and motivation that really springs one to victory. “It’s a very complicated system, that’s why the 1500, 3000 events are so exciting to watch during the Olympics.”
In this stage of the game, Thompson is considered a junior (Grades 9-10) after which he will have to compete in the senior (11-12) class — running with the bigger, faster dogs in the pack.
Given Thompson’s physical build though, Mortenson isn’t worried; referring to the young athlete’s strength-to-weight ratio as “superb.”
“He’s light, but he’s strong, so he can get over those steeples easier because it doesn’t tap all his energy like a larger 1500 m runner,” he said, adding that if you’re a little bit larger and you’re coming over those obstacles (15 of them, three of which are water traps) you have to carry your body weight over those steeples, over the water trap and then carry on.
“You’re actually decelerating, bounding off, landing and then accelerating again, 15 times over.”
The concept of being light and strong is similarly used in motorsport as “power-to-weight” ratio; in which a race car is very light, but is also incredibly powerful.
No, Thompson is not a Formula One race car, but he is certainly the human equivalent of one.
“He took the lead right from the gun and never looked back,” Mortenson said, referring to Thompson’s last performance, which was by far the most impressive.
“There are athletes who have a tremendous amount of genetic potential who are just natural runners, and then you have runners that don’t get the genetic potential, but they’re very hard workers, so they can do just as well as the gifted athletes,” Mortenson said. “This guy here, has both.”
Thompson’s goal is to win both events at Provincials being the only EMCS student to ever come close to accomplishing such an endeavour, so the coming weeks for the young athlete will undoubtedly be interesting.