The planes taking Andrew Butchart to his first outing of this summer’s athletics season will cross nine time zones today, departing his training base in the mountains of Arizona before touching down in Qatar where, on Friday, the new Diamond League campaign will begin in Doha.
The Scot, sixth in last year’s Olympic Games, will race the 3,000 metres against some of his fellow leviathans. Then speedily take a return flight whence he came: back to America, back into pushing his lungs to bursting point at altitude, back to ensuring the small details are ticked off so that he might challenge for a medal at August’s IAAF world championships in London.
What a difference 12 months makes. From scouring the global schedule in the hope of races of sufficient quality to now, where the oil barons of the Middle East are among many making the 25-year-old a Man in Demand.
“I’m still not quite used to it,” Butchart laughs. “It’s kind of just happening so I’m going with it. I’m honoured and delighted people want me to race at their meets and it shows what hard work can do. Doha should be exciting. The novelty of going to these places hasn’t worn off and I don’t think it ever will. It’s cool when you get these invites and it’s even harder to say no.
“That’s the difficult part, deciding what races to hit and which not to go to because now, we can do what we want. You can choose when and where. And then get the kind of field you want to race against. The challenge is to ensure I don’t do too much or do too little.”
Having broken into the elite at what passes for a relatively late age, Dunblane’s other sporting over-achiever is determined to enjoy the ride. Just not too much. His accomplishments in Rio have reluctantly spirited him away from his habitual running home at Central AC where his long-time coach Derek Easton remains, his diary for 2017 so far taking in stops in New York and Boston rather than the muddy outposts of Falkirk and Cumbernauld and a domestic cross-country circuit that provided his platform to excel.
With success, inevitably (and happily) comes opportunities. A personal appearance here. A campaign for his chief sponsors New Balance there. Where once Butchart worked part-time in the gym at Gleneagles to subsidise his art, now he has the luxury of being able to carefully choose where his time will go rather than chasing the dime.
The sun is shining. However making hay remains secondary. “We take things day by day,” he affirms. “We’re not massive planners because things constantly change.
“But we did say let’s not do everything at once. It will even out hopefully over a few years if I do well and I’m not sure now is the time to go gallivanting off to do photoshoots. I’m training for a big year and I don’t want anything to jeopardise that.”
It is why he was absent from Belgrade last month when common sense screamed that a European Indoor title was his to lose following trans-Atlantics outings that brought further Scottish records and confirmation that he is as sure-footed on the boards as on the track or grass.
So confident were UK Athletics selectors that he could deliver that he was offered a free pass despite skipping the trials, a perk otherwise only granted to eventual double champion Laura Muir. Surely, for the prestige alone – and never mind the cash bonuses – he was tempted. “Nah. Nah,” he protests. “A medal is a medal. I know Laura was desperate to get a medal but it wasn’t for me.
“Indoors was more preparation for Gold Coast next year to race without too much of a break. It turned out I can run well and I know people were annoyed when I didn’t do the Europeans or Birmingham Grand Prix. But they weren’t in my plans. It is tough to see people win races I know I can beat. But I’d much rather get a medal at world championships.”
Doha will offer pointers to whether his late-winter’s work has him on a trajectory to succeed. The field is expected to be first-class. The kind of examination fit for a high-flyer. “I’m here to perform and show what I can do,” Butchart advises.” I’m travelling all the way from Flagstaff to Doha to do that. Hopefully I’ll beat a few of the Africans at their own game.”