Athlete Chris O’Hare targets gold in Rio Olympics

Callum Hawkins, left, and Chris O'Hare meet up yesterday ahead of the Great Edinburgh XC. Picture: PA

Callum Hawkins, left, and Chris O'Hare meet up yesterday ahead of the Great Edinburgh XC. Picture: PA

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Squirrelled away in his parents’ home in West Linton is the treasure trove accumulated by Chris O’Hare, the bronze medal he acquired over 1,500 metres at last August’s European Championships its most precious trinket. Since returning from Boston – where he is now based – for Christmas, it has been a souvenir untouched, a source of pride but also of motivation for what lies beyond.

“While 2014 was good-ish,” the 24-year-old reflects, “it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. In hindsight, I can look at things that could have been changed or could have been better. I can’t be elated at a bronze medal because there’s two better than that. When you’re close enough that you have something material to hold on to, like a bronze medal, it focuses the mind on getting the gold at future events.”

It is an admirable ambition and not an unreasonable goal. The Scot, freed from the distractions of university life, is now free to concentrate fully on the arduous evolution from contender to champion. Only small gains are demanded. Those, as ever, are the hardest to secure, the intangible differentials that might narrowly separate him from his ultimate goal of walking away from the 2016 Olympics with a medal to behold.

Which is why, following his cameo on home soil in this afternoon’s Morrison’s Great Edinburgh cross-country in his former stomping ground of Holyrood Park, he will jet back to the United States for further instruction. Now settled in the city of the Celtics and Red Sox in tandem with fiancée Meredith, he has entrusted his immediate future to Terrence Mahon, the distance-running guru who headed the endurance programme at UK Athletics before being lured back to his native land 12 months ago.

Mahon’s finishing school is based at Harvard University, as leafy and imposing as you might imagine, his student confirms. The sporting facilities befit the reputation of the Ivy League. “Training is great,” he adds. “Terrence really knows what he’s doing. Certain aspects of my training had been neglected, not on purpose or due to a lack of knowledge, but there are so many people in a university programme that it’s difficult to get those one per centers that all add up. Terrence is very scientific in his training. I already feel stronger than at this point last year.”

His colleagues number a dozen, the camaraderie is a boon. Constructive critiques are openly shared. Long-time contemporary, and Edinburgh AC stable-
mate, Lynsey Sharp is among them, although her working relationship with Mahon is conducted primarily at long distance. “When she comes to Boston for a little stint, it’s good to have a familiar face there,” O’Hare acknowledges. “I get to show her around and I get to have another Edinburgh native.”

Both are set on a similar trajectory. The initial part of the 2015 schedule will be geared towards March’s European Indoors, before attention turns outdoors and on to the world championships. “Beijing is the goal,” he affirms. “European Indoors is a step towards that goal, as is Beijing a step towards Rio. The effect of these are to medal at a major championships like an Olympics.”

The Great Edinburgh examination will illustrate his current state of play. A world-class field, including 2008 Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop, will provide the Great Britain international with a test over four kilometres. A little local insight, he hopes, might provide a modest edge. “They’ve softened the course since I was a youngster,” he observes. “They used to have it go all the way up and round Haggis Knowe but now it’s just a little bump beside the Knowe. I remember doing it in my first year at the distance and I was up against Kenenisa Bekele. I was three minutes behind him, or maybe more.”

It is not, he indiscreetly declares, a race he expects to enjoy. “I’ve successfully wiped most cross-country from my mind,” he grins. “It’s more of a trauma than a memory.” In the absence of Mo Farah, the adjoining three-national international between Team Europe, the USA and Great Britain & Northern Ireland may lack star power but, with most of the best exponents of mud and rain available for duty, compelling confrontations can be expected over senior and junior levels.

The Scottish trio of Callum Hawkins, Andy Butchart and Luke Caldwell will all shoulder the expectation of delivering points in the men’s 8k, while Jonny Glenn and debutant Euan Gillham can measure their standing in the Under-20 event.

And, while Rosie Smith is a late addition to the women’s team, others on the British team will hunt down recently-crowned European champion Gemma Steel on her return to the circuit where she triumphed last year. “There’s a lot of tactics involved,” she confirmed. “So anyone can steal victory on the day.”

l Great Edinburgh XC, BBC One, 1:10pm

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