British athletics could do with 87 Eilidh Doyles in their squad for the IAAF world championships which begin tonight in London. Front and centre on the eve of the showpiece yesterday, it was easy to see why the most garlanded Scot in the sport’s history had been elected by her peers as their captain with passion and fortitude in reserve.
How badly track and field could do with such role models rather than the rogues, personalities and pariahs, most of whom have been weeded out but with the knowledge that some have slipped through the net.
Five years on from London 2012, with all the hubris and heroics, there is a compelling need to reboot and refresh made more urgent by the impending departure of Mo Farah from the main stage in tandem with the dimming of the light that surrounds the irrepressible Usain Bolt.
“You’re saying goodbye to two big legends,” Doyle admitted. But with each departure comes opportunity.
Others want to step forward and establish themselves at the head of the pack. Faster, stronger, further. By its very nature, athletics is ever evolving and the likes of Laura Muir – whose initial foray in the 1,500 metres heats this evening is sandwiched between the two principal attractions, Bolt and Farah – will be asked to step up and be counted.
“We do have the ones we’re expecting big things from,” Doyle acknowledged. “But right across the board, we’ve got a lot of great sprinters coming through. Personally. I think Chris O’Hare might have a really good year. He’s shown great confidence, picking up Diamond League wins. He’ll not be intimidated. I think he’ll go out and do well.”
Yet, Farah aside, there are few homegrown competitors to bet the house on. Perhaps Katarina Johnson-Thompson in the heptathlon. Maybe Andy Pozzi in the hurdles or Doyle, Muir or O’Hare. Even one of the male sprinters, emboldened by the late withdrawal of Canada’s quicksilver Andre de Grasse due to injury. “But it’s difficult to say,” Doyle added. “Who is going to go out there and really thrive in that atmosphere? I think there will be a lot of surprises.”
Some will help pursue Britain’s target of six to eight medals. Others may be inspired to over-perform but still fall short. “Athletics is a really difficult sport to win medals in,” Doyle added. “I said in my [captain’s] speech [to the team] that every country does athletics. It’s tough to get medals. But I think we’re going to see some new blood coming through for the future.”
Farah, ever the man for the big occasion, returns to the scene of his finest hour. His PR advisers have kept him squirreled away, a great shame when this event needs all the oxygen of publicity it can get. While Doyle was doing her utmost to sell her sport, the four-time Olympic gold medallist was barely metres away in the clutch of his sponsors. His future may lie on the roads but it would have been a boon to hear his words on the streets.
In his absence, UK Athletics performance director Neil Black was forced to vouch for someone he has known since youth. His legacy, even with his oft-criticised association with American coach Alberto Salazar, is secure, Black says, having “looked people in the eye”. He added: “He does take on board what everybody says but at the end he makes the decisions, that’s what makes him a special multiple global champion.”
There will be a reminder of past misdemeanours when a number of medals from previous championships are officially redistributed tonight as a consequence of doping offences, with Doyle and Lee McConnell among the upgraded recipients.
It is fitting, perhaps, that the latter – now-retired - is on parade. There are a record number of Scots in the UK’s squad where, not so long ago, the 400m specialist ran alone. “There’s 16 here,” Doyle said. “It’s just incredible. And it’s well-established athletes looking to make finals and make the podium.”
The more, the merrier. To rejuvenate and point onwards to the future with hope and glory trumping despair.