Record-breaking debut shows Wilkinson belongs among the elite
By and large, sporting debuts tend to go one of two ways.
Competitors can become overawed by the size of the occasion and their performance suffers as a result, while others thrive under the pressure.
For those that have followed race walker Callum Wilkinson’s rapid rise over the last 12 months, it would have been no surprise when he placed himself in the latter of those two categories on Sunday in his first ever competitive outing over 20km.
The Moulton athlete had seemingly mastered the 10km, to the point where he became the first Brit to win a global race-walking medal in 52 years by clinching World Under-20 Athletics Championships gold last July.
Nevertheless, the step up to senior level could still have been an initial daunting assignment, but the 20-year-old took it all in his stride in the Swiss city of Lugano.
His time of one hour, 23 minutes and 47 seconds was a new national Under-23 record, as well as placing him eighth on the all-time British list.
In addition, Wilkinson’s time was well within the British qualifying remit for the European Cup of Walking, the European Under-23 Championships and the London-staged World Athletics Championships in August.
“I could not have hoped for a better debut,” conceded the Leeds Beckett University student.
“I had confidence because I knew the times I had been setting in training, but there is always still little doubts.
“Have I done enough preparation? Should I have trained more?
“This was going round my head because I wanted to be impressive on my debut and turn some heads.
“But thankfully it came together. To hear that only seven people in this country have set faster times is unreal.”
In finishing in eighth position overall, Wilkinson was trailled by some big names, including London 2012 silver medal winner Erick Barrondo of Guatemala.
Wilkinson passed the 25-year-old after the 1km marker — a moment that showed him he truly belonged in such established company.
“When you saw the entries coming in on the website, it was obviously going to be a really good field,” he added.
“These are people I really respect, but I also wanted to beat them.
“When I dropped past Barrondo it made me feel comfortable. I was leaving behind some big names and it felt natural.”
It proved to be a family affair for the Wilkinsons in Switzerland, with younger brother George making an impression in the Under-16s 5km race.
The 14-year-old crossed the line in 28.34, which was a three-minute improvement on his previous personal best.