By Mitch Phillips

LONDON (Reuters) – Veteran Chris Thompson, who turns 40 next month, produced a masterful performance to win the British Olympic Marathon trials in the unusual surroundings of London’s Kew Gardens on Friday to secure his place in Tokyo.

In damp, grey conditions on a multi-lap course at the famed Royal Botanic Gardens, Thompson rolled back the years and showed all his experience as he let a lead pack break clear for more than half the race.

Looking out of it, Thompson instead reeled them in as the pace slowed, then surged clear in emphatic style and by the last lap he was half a minute ahead.

The first two finishers were assured of Olympic selection if they had the qualifying time and Thompson gritted his teeth over the final stages to make sure he was inside it.

When he crossed the line in front of the famous glass Palm House Thompson punched the air and screamed in joy – and it was fully understandable.

His time of two hours, 10.50 minutes shattered his personal best from seven years ago and, all-importantly, was well inside the Olympic qualifying time of 2:11.30.

Ben Connor, who already had the qualifying standard from last year’s London Marathon, finished second in 2:12.06 to also punch his Tokyo ticket, alongside Callum Hawkins, pre-selected, who acted as a pacemaker on Friday.

Back in 2010 Thompson won silver over 10,000 metres at the European Athletics Championships, behind Mo Farah. While Farah went on to win multiple world and Olympic titles, Thompson endured a wretched run of injuries, though he did make the 2012 Olympics in the marathon, finishing 25th.

Friday’s event was the first time a one-off trial race had been held for an Olympic marathon since 1980 – the London Marathon has done the job since then.

Officials will hope things turn out a bit better this year, however, as all three British men failed to finish in Moscow, which came four years before women were allowed to race the distance at the Games.

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Toby Davis)

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