Scottish Athletics finds itself in the midst of a golden era as 15 track and field athletes are set to represent Team GB and NI at the Rio Olympics – the most in over 100 years.
Following the British Championships in Birmingham it was confirmed that Lynsey Sharp (800m), Beth Potter (10,000m), Callum Hawkins (Marathon), Derek Hawkins (Marathon), Tsegai Tewelde (Marathon), Andrew Butchart (5000m), Eilidh Doyle (400m hurdles), Lennie Waite (3000m Steeplechase), Chris O’Hare (1500m), Laura Muir (1500m), Steph Twell (5000m), and Eilish McColgan (5000m) were all on their way to Rio.
Laura Whittle also secured a place on the team alongside Twell and McColgan in the 5000m. Scotland will also have two representatives in the Men’s Hammer with Chris Bennett and Mark Dry also being picked.
It’s fair to say nobody expected such a large number of Scots in Brazil, especially given that Eilidh Doyle, Lynsey Sharp, Eilish McColgan, and Lee McConnell were the only Scottish representatives at London 2012.
“Overall, I am thrilled. Six (Olympic selection) was a target we had spoken about within the sport so to exceed that so emphatically is a massive encouragement,” said Rodger Harkins, Director of Coaching at Scottish Athletics.
What is the cause for increased Scottish representation?
This success hasn’t happened overnight, but there’s clearly a momentum when it comes to athletics in Scotland.
“Things have really moved on since Glasgow. That was probably the defining moment for athletics in Scotland. People saw how it’s possible to make the team and compete on the world stage,”stated 800m runner, Lynsey Sharp.
Evidently Sharp isn’t the only one who has benefited from competing in a Commonwealth Games on home soil, as eight others who donned a Scottish vest in 2014 have upped their game significantly to gain selection for Rio.
“In fact, it probably started before that with London 2012 when Eilish and Lynsey were there at a young age. Both those events being on the doorstep of all British athletes was a motivating factor – be it if you were there or if you had just missed out,” he said.
“Lots of people talk about legacy and argue about legacy, but if you ask the athletes who are delivering now what inspired them I think a few will say ‘Glasgow 2014’. Those who were there wanted more and those who missed out wanted to try and get that experience for themselves.
“It was there right in front of them and that has generated that level of belief that they can make the leap onto that kind of stage.”
There’s definite cause for optimism when it comes to the medal prospects of Scottish athletes. European Champion and Commonwealth silver medallist, Eilidh Doyle (formerly Eilidh Child) faces a tough field in the 400m hurdles, but has plenty of championship experience.
Doyle can take huge confidence from her victory at the Doha Diamond League in May where she defeated a field of top athletes. However with a number of American and Jamaican athletes posting impressive times this season, she is fully aware that she’ll have to be at the top of her game.
“I don’t see why I can’t be contending for a medal but it’s the Olympics, they don’t hand them out for free. In order to contend with the top girls in the world I need to be running a bit quicker. I want to go there and execute the race and smash it when it matters,” she said.
Laura Muir has continuously impressed on the world stage over 1500m and will be looking to finally make her mark at a major championship. She’s certainly showed that she is in good form, by setting a Scottish mile record at the Diamond League event in Oslo in June. She also displayed her credentials as a top athlete when at the same Diamond League meeting in 2015 where she defeated a world class field to win the 1500m.
Muir, who also studies veterinary medicine at the University of Glasgow, will have to be at her very best if she wants to reach the podium as three other women have already run under the four minute mark this season.
“I’m in the best shape I can be – I’m running PBs in sessions and close to my track PBs during track sessions so I’m running well,” she said.
The other Scottish representatives, who are all competing in distance events, face a formidable task in their respective disciplines. It’s no secret that distance events are often dominated by athletes from African nations, and Rio looks set to be no different.
Conversely, it’s important to bear in mind that this is a young Scottish contingent with an average age of 25 and a half. Even if no medals are won, the experience will greatly help them going forward into future championship events.