THE year after the Olympics, the athlete’s focus is still there but the pressure has waned. Freed from the fear that they may miss out on that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete at a home Games, the competitors working their way to peak performance in time for the World Championships in Moscow in August are more relaxed.
That approach seems to suit Eilidh Child, who has stepped up a gear from last summer, chipping away at her personal best times in the 400m in the early part of the season and slicing a sizeable chunk off her best over the hurdles as well.
Last weekend, in Gateshead, she ran well over a second faster than the time she managed in the Olympic semi-finals in London and while she says that she is no longer concentrating on times but performances and placings with just a couple of meets before Moscow, she still believes she can go faster.
The nice thing is the 26-year-old Scot no longer feels bashful about saying that.
Having enlisted the help of a psychologist, she has also learned to analyse her races, her performances and her prospects more dispassionately and now that she is racking up the kind of times that could and should earn her a place in major finals, she has few qualms about stating her intentions.
She already has the qualifying time for the World Championships so now she is concentrating on peaking perfectly, starting with today’s Diamond League meeting in Birmingham.
“I think it’s a typical Scottish thing to talk yourself down or to not talk yourself up, anyway,” says Eilidh. “I would never say ‘oh I think I can win this race or I should be running this time or doing this or that’ because I always felt I was setting myself up for a fall. Scots are wary of that I think.
“We don’t like to see people getting too full of themselves and I felt that people might think that was what I was doing if I said anything like that. I was scared I would make a fool of myself.
“But, the thing is, it’s not an arrogance it’s just you know you have been running really well, you know your own times, so I’m getting better at saying that. Before I would play it down and say, well as long as I do a PB [personal best]… I wouldn’t set goals. It is definitely a Scottish thing and pretty much a British thing as well.”
In the past Child has felt it tough to convert potential into performances but with the help of psychology and the benefits of a second successive winter training with coach Malcolm Arnold at Bath, she is seeing the progress on the track.
“I had good years in 2009 and 2010 but 2011 wasn’t as good as I wanted, 2012 was OK but this year I feel like I am on the up again,” she adds. “It almost feels like a second breakthrough year.
“Last year there was obviously a lot of pressure because it was the Olympics in London and no-one wanted to miss out and it was so intense but now I’m more relaxed and I think that has played a part in me running better. I’ve rediscovered the fun factor.
“I will probably only have this weekend in Birmingham and then the British trials next month before the Worlds and I want to use them as a stepping stones, to build on last weekend.”
Her time of 54.42 in Gateshead last Saturday means she is now placed among those who should be targeting major finals, even pushing for a place on the podium on a good day.
“I had known there was a good time in there and last weekend was probably, technically, the best race I have ever run and everything went right but it took me a bit by surprise because the conditions weren’t ideal and I wasn’t really thinking about PBs,” she says.
“Because it was a team event, I was thinking more about getting the maximum points for the team and when I crossed the line, glancing at the clock was secondary and I was like ‘oh’ when I saw the time. I think that’s how I’m going to approach all my races now.
“But it has given me a bit of confidence for the rest of the season because I know that’s the kind of times I should be running and I now need to do that consistently.”
The better times are opening doors, with Diamond League meetings her arena these days. Having competed against the might of Europe last weekend, this afternoon she will face foes from the USA, and Jamaica as well, at Birmingham.
“It’s nice to go into a race where I will face even stronger competition and these will be the girls I’m going to have to beat to try to make the final at the world champs or the girls I’m going to have to face in the final and this is a chance for me to put down a marker so when it comes to those races, I can go in there feeling quite confident.”
So without any trace of arrogance but with oodles of extra confidence, what is the target in Moscow?
“Making the final is the initial goal because I have never made the final of a major championships – either the Olympics or the Worlds – but with the times I’m now running, that’s where I should be,” she says.
“I’m running the same sort of times as these girls so I should be there and if I can do that then you never know what could happen, especially in the hurdles when the pressure is on. If I can get into the final then that will be the box ticked and then I will see what I can do once I’m there.”
Child follows her heart by joining the Tynecastle fund-raising campaign
Eilidh Child has urged Hearts fans to do what they can to safeguard the future of the troubled club, writes Moira Gordon.
“I’ve sent a signed top, and my sister is an author and she has signed a copy of her book, so we are all trying to do our bit,” said Child, who has become a part-time fundraiser as well as a full-time fan of the Gorgie side.
At the end of last year she donated a top worn during the 4x400m relay at the London Olympics. A matter of months later, with the club trying to raise the funds to take them into the new season, she has parted with a signed Manchester United top.
Based in Bath, the GB athlete, who wears a Hearts wristband during all of her races, does not get the daily updates in the newspapers but she was back in Scotland when the club went into administration and she says that Twitter and regular messages from her mum keep her appraised of the situation.
“It’s funny because down here I can almost switch off from it but then I get a text from my mum giving me the latest update. It’s not great and I’m just hoping we can prevent liquidation. We just have to hope we can come out the other end. It might take a while but hopefully it will be better in the long run. We all have to do what we can.”
Her mum might be the one to keep her updated but it was her dad who got her hooked. “Yeah, it’s his fault! He is from Oban originally and I think all his pals supported either Rangers or Celtic and he wanted to be different and liked the name Heart of Midlothian so he supported Hearts and we were brought up that way.
“We have gone from a young age and I remember being at the ’98 cup final and things like that. I have been brought up as a mad football fan but when I lived in Edinburgh, when I was at university, I really got into it and I was at the football constantly.
“It’s an escape because it is totally different from what I do and when I go along to the football I get to switch off from the athletics and get engrossed in the game. I like the friendly banter as well and hopefully there will be many more years of that.”