Ben Pattison remembers watching Britain’s second-most recent male world finalist run the 800m in London, less than 40 miles from his hometown, in 2017.
He cheered from the stands aged 15 as Kyle Langford placed fourth with a personal best time. Jump forward seven years and Pattison would be following in Langford’s footsteps, becoming the first British male to make a World Championships final in almost a decade.
He was determined to leave nothing on the track. One-minute and 43-seconds after the gun and he’d earned himself, and his country, bronze on the world stage. The achievement was far beyond his expectations.
“I’d never been in a race before where if I came last I’d be eighth in the world, which to me is mind-blowing,” he tells the BEAA after winning Athletes’ Athlete of the Month. “Last year I was ranked like 50th.
“I was pretty emotional just making the final and then I sort of realised that no matter how this final goes no one can take away the fact I’m a world finalist. So I might as well step it up even more and become a world medallist.”
Pattison says that qualifying for the final alleviated some of the pressure he felt and allowed him to run freer and faster. It meant that when he crossed the line commentators could highlight a historic feat: no British man had medalled since 1987.
When he spoke to the media post-race he was reminded of a stark indicator of his success: just three years ago the athlete had had heart surgery aged 18.
Diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, Pattison’s heart could race at a frightening 250 bpm. Doctors first told him to stop running – a non-starter for the aspiring athlete – and he eventually underwent an operation that burned a part of the organ off.
He recalls: “British Athletics were really helpful in getting me to see a specialist, which was when they actually worked out I had a problem with my heart.
“It was definitely a very scary thing at the time but I had the right people around me and got through it pretty comfortably. I’ve never really looked back. Even when it got brought up in the mixed zone [in Budapest] I’d completely forgotten I’d had heart surgery… They asked me what year it was and I couldn’t even remember because I’d sort of moved on from it and not looked back since.
“Looking back on it now at the end of the season it’s definitely something to think about though. That decision [to have surgery] has paid off. I remember thinking at the time: ‘Is this heart condition the reason I’m good at running? If they solve this is it that all of a sudden I won’t be able to perform at my best again?’ That was a bit concerning but luckily I think I showed that’s not been the case.”
Pattison couldn’t exercise either side of the surgery, which was during the Covid-19 pandemic, and says he kept himself occupied through rounds of Call of Duty and FIFA. He jokes that while the games could up his heart rate when it came to crunch time, having the support of his friends proved a useful distraction.
Now, just weeks after bagging world bronze, Pattison has already turned his attention to 2024.
“I find it pretty hard to switch off from thinking about things going forward because you always want to build and progress. I think there’s no point settling for what I’ve done. Next year the Olympics is the main thing, the event everyone knows about and cares about.
“I think I’ve done well to get a bronze, but the year I’ve had, missing a lot of winter, means there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. I’ve already started adjusting a few things from last year, so I think a gold medal at the Olympics is the aim… I’m definitely very motivated after the summer I’ve had.”