FIRST night nerves are an inevitability, Eilidh Child declares, even in the afternoon. With three months of graft on both sides of the Atlantic behind her, the moment of truth for the Olympic semi-finalist comes today in her summer debut over 400 metres hurdles at the annual Loughborough International.
The bar, however, has been raised following a body of work last winter in which the 26-year-old decimated the Scottish 400 metres record on multiple occasions, en route to walking away from the European Indoor Championships with a gold and silver. Not a bad return away from her specialist event.
“The indoor season really surprised me,” she admitted. “After my first indoor race in Glasgow, I just thought that was where I was supposed to be. But, as things went on, I got to the end of every race, saw the clock and thought: ‘I never expected to run that fast.’ I surprised myself.”
She would be happy to continue in that vein, even with ten barriers in her way. Under the watch of her Bath-based coaches Malcolm Arnold and James Hillier, tweaks have been made since the end of last season. With her speed accelerated, a recent stint in the US targeted her hurdling but the annual curtain raiser will offer signs of whether the two halves can make an effective whole. In London, her best mark of 56.03 was over three seconds adrift of the gold medal-winning time of Russia’s Natalya Antyukh. There is a gulf to make up but it is not insurmountable.
Reaching the final of this summer’s world championships in Moscow is the minimum return set down by Arnold. “That’s where I should be,” Child said. “But they’ve not said anything about times. Malcolm’s quite hard when it comes to targets. He doesn’t want to give you too much praise, even if you’ve done better than expected. And he also doesn’t want to put pressure on you by specifying a time. I know that the world final is a realistic goal. It will be hard to get but with the way my indoor season went I should be there.”
In Loughborough, Child will be part of a Scotland team taking on squads representing England, Wales, Great Britain juniors and the host university, who can call on their distinguished alumni. Several Olympians, including Child’s great rival, Perri Shakes-Drayton, will enter the fray while a number of Scottish prospects also begin their domestic campaigns, with long jumper Jade Nimmo and high jumper Allan Smith among those who have pushed themselves forward in recent months.
Child will not ask for too much too soon, with stiffer competition and bigger stages yet ahead. “I just want a nice solid opener without any big mistakes,” the Commonwealth silver medallist added. “Although I had a good run in Glasgow, we still went back to make more improvements after that. And I’m expecting it will be the same for the hurdles as well, that I’ll always go to the next race and say ‘where can I get better?’”
Inevitably, you expect, there will be some internal chatter here about the revelation this week that UK Athletics head coach Peter Eriksson is to depart next month after less than a year in the role. There will be no rush to appoint a replacement before Moscow, with performance director Neil Black filling the void.
“I feel bad for him, being forced into it by family circumstances,” Child said. “But as athletes we don’t pay too much attention to this stuff because it doesn’t really affect us.”