Scotland’s elite generating feel good factor

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Rodger Harkins believes people at all levels of athletics in Scotland can feed off the feel-good factor being generated by the county’s elite performers.

Four Scots were crowned British indoor champions in Sheffield last weekend as four more collected medals in a fine collective ‘raid’ on Yorkshire.

A series of PB performances fitted well with the mantra of governing body scottishathletics to ‘Perform When it Counts’ and, back in Glasgow, hundreds of teenagers demonstrated their desire to compete and improve by contesting medals at Age Group Champs which attracted record fields.

Positivity can be powerful if channelled correctly according to director of coaching Harkins, who was at the EIS arena in Sheffield to monitor performances and consult with athletes and coaches.

The man who guided Lee McConnell to the Olympics on three occasions and a number of major championship medals believes there is now a ‘vibrancy’ in the sport in Scotland following Glasgow 2014.

‘It was a pretty good weekend for Scottish athletes all told,’ said Rodger, with those four golds for Guy Learmonth, Laura Muir, Kirsten McAslan and Allan Smith coming in a one-hour purple patch mid-afternoon on Sunday.

‘To get four gold medals, eight medals in total and a number of PB performances in finals or heats at the British Champs really is encouraging.

‘At scottishathletics we are talking about ‘Perform When it Counts’ as a strategy across the whole sport but, in competition, it is athletes and coaches who have to put that into practice and I’m delighted a number of them did that in Sheffield.

‘We keep saying it: but it is great for our young athletes to see these Seniors doing well and being good role models. If people have been motivated or inspired by the Commonwealth Games, or the medals won in Zurich at the Euros last summer, then that’s great.

‘I wasn’t at the Emirates Arena for our Age Group Champs because I was in Sheffield obviously but the entry numbers at almost 1100 athletes should also give everyone in the sport a lift.

‘I believe the atmosphere was very good among the clubs, the coaches and the officials. There is a vibrancy in the sport, I think, and now it is about tapping into that and using it as a platform.

‘The International Match over the past couple of years has maybe helped, too, and now we have a world-class Grand Prix coming to Glasgow three years out of five – starting in 2016. Hopefully days like those give us another chance to showcase athletics and kids the chance to see big stars perform.’

The GB and NI selection for the European Indoors will be made next week, following this weekend’s Grand Prix in Birmingham, with Harkins hopeful a few more Scots can join Muir and Smith, whose places look assured.

Looking back at the performances, it is worth noting that four of the eight medallists – McAslan, Jamie Bowie (bronze), Katy Brown (bronze) and Zara Asante (bronze) – had not medalled before at British level.

‘We’ve some new names coming through and that is growing the list of contenders we have, certainly when it comes to British Champs,’ said Harkins, with24 medals won outdoors in Birmingham over the past two summers at outdoor British Champs.

‘Kirsten McAslan was in a really messy race, with two athletes falling adjustments had to be taken in an instant. She has run an indoor PB of 53.05 and come away with gold. I believe if the fall had not happened then she would have run under 53 seconds on Sunday.

‘Kirsten has another event coming up at BUCS and can try to get the Euro qualifying time. The one thing you can say is: she had the presence of mind to take advantage of it and that was good.

‘Laura and Guy were both pretty much favourites in their events. Laura was faster than the rest of the field on paper and on current form and she made that count in her favour.

‘I don’t think she was under quite the same pressure as Guy as she has won gold in Sheffield before – but it is a good habit she is getting into there in terms of three-in-a-row.

‘For Guy it was a first British senior title and he won it the hard way. He went out and led from first to last and that’s more difficult, really, than what anyone else did in that race. I’m pleased for him after the progress he showed at the Commonwealths last summer and hopefully now he can make that plane for Prague.

‘Allan Smith and Sarah Warnock are jumping well and they are picking up British medals now. Both have won them before in Sheffield and it was great to see the PB performances in the heat of competition.

‘Allan was terrific – he was sailing over that bar and looking good. His approach was good and then lifting himself clear very well indeed. It was a good series of jumps.

‘In the 400m, we’d Jamie Bowie winning a first British medal with that bronze and Grant Plenderleith had an indoor PB the day before and came through the rounds to finish fourth. We await to hear how it unfolds for the 4 x 400m in terms of the Euros selection for Prague, but you can certainly say Jamie is throwing his hat into the ring.

‘There were other PBs and medals like Zara Asante in the triple jump and Katy Brown in the 800m – really good performances. Zara had never jumped that far indoors or out.

‘David Feeney went under eight seconds for the 60m hurdles for the first time; Andrew Butchart had a PB in the 3000m and well done to Mhairi Hendry on a Scottish U20 record – beating an 800m time that Laura Muir had set a couple of years ago.

‘So, when you consider that the likes of Eilidh Child, Lynsey Sharp and Chris O’Hare – and one or two others who are ranked highly in their events – were not there, then collectively it was a fine performance. Well done to all the athletes and their coaches involved.’


*Scotland vests are up for grabs at the National Cross Country at Falkirk on Sunday – with the biggest field for 21 years set to contest titles.

The top three eligible men and women in the Senior and U20 races at Callendar Park will be automatically offered Scotland places for the Home Countries International in Antrim next month.

Holder Callum Hawkins and fellow GB international Andrew Butchart look set to go head-to-head for the Scottish title after finishing first and second in Liverpool in December in high-profile British XC Challenge race.