Young Scottish athletes have delivered a huge seal of approval for the sport and handed further evidence of a Hampden legacy.
Entry numbers for the scottishathletics Age Group Championships at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow later this month are at record levels with an incredible 1097 names on start-lists for the track and field event.
That’s just 17 shy of double the 557 total number of young athletes who entered the same event three years ago when it was staged for the last time at the Kelvin Hall early in the Olympic year of 2012.
It is a remarkable endorsement of a commitment to competition by young athletes in the wake of London 2012 and Glasgow 2014 and reflects growth across the sport with membership increases, more coaches qualified and new recruits being retained.
And there’s huge encouragement for the sport and the governing body with scottishathletics revealing that the combined tally of entries for U17 and U20 age brackets at the Emirates is 547 – just 10 short of the total figure across four age groups for that 2012 event at the old Kelvin Hall indoor track!
National agency sportscotland have already revealed figures which suggest the impact of the Commonwealth Games is being felt across all 17 sports which featured at Glasgow 2014 – with athletics enjoying a 25 percent rise in governing body memberships over a four-year period as clubs welcome in the next Lynsey Sharp, Eilidh Child or Chris O’Hare.
The Scottish National cross country also looms later this month and event entry figures in that strand of the sport are at a 20-year high, with more women in particular taking part.
‘To me there are a couple of clear reasons why we are seeing this staggering rise in entry numbers for our Age Group Champs – young athletes demonstrating a big commitment to competition,’ said Nigel Holl, chief executive at scottishathletics.
‘I want to take this opportunity to recognise those that are enabling this tremendous growth.
‘First of all, it’s down to athletics clubs in Scotland (there are around 150) and their hard-working coaches. They have prepared for and coped with the catalytic impact of both the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
‘The clubs and coaches have welcomed new young athletes in . . . nurtured them, motivated them and inspired them. They do it in their spare time as dedicated volunteers and these numbers demonstrate what a cracking job they are doing – the length and breadth of Scotland.
‘Secondly, people don’t come back if they don’t enjoy the experience, so enormous credit must go to our officials and competition organisers.
‘We are fortunate to have an excellent competition venue at the Emirates Arena for indoor athletics; but the environment is made by the people on the day. So I salute our officials who week in, week out spend long days giving athletes of all ages the competitive opportunities. Again, these people are volunteers and they are the very fabric of the sport.
‘So, I think we’re seeing clear evidence that ‘legacy lives’. It lives because people in athletics have made it happen. It’s not by chance, but it has taken hard work – and that hard work will continue for years to come. Bring it on!’
scottishathletics actually introduced their Club Together programme – part-time appointments at clubs geared to coping with increased numbers – prior to the Olympics in London.
There are now almost 30 clubs involved with Caithness AAC the latest to sign-up, demonstrating the nationwide reach of the programme with the list of clubs involved including locations like Gala, Shetland, Inverclyde and Aberdeen as well as some long-established names like Dundee Hawkhill, Shettleston Harriers, Kilmarnock Harriers and Pitreavie AAC.
‘Athletics all starts at the clubs as the backbone of the sport at community level,’ added Holl.
‘The clubs provide a ‘home’ for young people interested in the sport; for emerging talent; for hard-working and ambitious coaches. They should be the main vehicle that allows young athletes to get prepared for competition.
‘They have been helped by our leading Club Together programme – a project that has unique aspects and includes part-time employees at clubs focused just on that club, the coaching structures, and perhaps crucially the culture that the club exhibits.
‘Our Club Together clubs are now seeing a huge ‘retention’ of those young people – 82 percent of them who joined after London still in the clubs – and now they are starting to emerge onto the competitive scene. That’s why we’ve seen big increases in entry numbers for the likes of the Age Group Champs at the Emirates.
‘It is happening in cross country as well and so often for our events that it is not an accident. The big numbers of young athletes – a real tidal surge of potential talent – is emerging from the clubs onto the competitive scene and that’s wonderful and encouraging for us to see.’
Meanwhile, the Emirates Arena will play host to around 2000 athletes in competition over an eight-day period this week.
Masters and Senior athletes took part in National Champs last weekend, the Scottish Schools attracted 1300 entries for on Wednesday and Thursday while this Saturday the Scottish Unis and Colleges hold their annual indoor track and field event at the Glasgow venue.
Check out: www.scottishathletics.org.uk; www.sportscotland.org.uk
*Four athletes will represent Scotland at the British Cross Challenge Series races at Milton Keynes on Saturday.
GB internationals Andrew Butchart (Central AC), Jonny Glen (Inverclyde AC) and Euan Gillham (Kilbarchan AAC) still have selection ambitions for the World Cross in China. Scotland international Catriona Graves (Garscube Harriers), who is a GB international in hill running, races in the Junior Women’s category.
The breakdown on the four age group athlete entry figures for the event at Emirates on February 14 (U13 and U17) and February 15 (U15 and U20) is as follows:
U13 218; U15 332; U17 326: U20: 221
These are athletes entered numbers; athletes can compete in more than one event if they wish (although there is a limit set for U13s on one day).
It should be noted that the younger athletes in U13 bracket were encouraged to compete at the U12 superTEAMS last month, when around 400 youngsters from 100 teams each competed in four events.