By mark woods
The craft of dividing 400 metres into a series of 15 exquisitely-timed strides and intermittent leaps is as much a science as an art. Years have been spent deconstructing and re-building Eilidh Doyle’s hurdling technique in the quest for an absolute perfection that may always lie just a little out of reach.
If the veteran coach Malcolm Arnold is her guru, then the Scot has become adept at self-analysis and auto-correction, especially as she approaches an Olympic Games that may define her athletics career.
Victorious in her annual debut in Doha last month, Doyle, pictured, was third in Rome in Thursday but was gratifyingly close to a second flawless display. “Whether I step off the track coming third or sixth, the main goal is to feel I’ve nailed that race and think it’s the way I wanted to run,” she confirms. “I felt like that in 2014, whereas a lot of the time in 2015, I was thinking: ‘I hit that hurdle or I got that stride wrong.’ There was only a handful of times last season I was really happy with what I’d done.”
Three weeks away from the Olympic trials, the 29-year-old will seek further reassurances in today’s Diamond League leg in Birmingham. A winter’s training at her base in Bath, plus a recent training camp in Tenerife, have been targeted at shining now but eventually starring in Rio.
Her event is deep in talent. Kaliese Spencer, her lone conqueror at Glasgow 2014, awaits this afternoon. Her emerging domestic rival Meghan Beesley lurks also. All will fear most Zuzana Hejnova who re-asserted her pre-eminence by capturing the world title in Beijing last summer.
When the then-Miss Child was ascending to the continental crown, the brilliant Czech hurdler was idle on the sidelines, wondering if she would be able to make up lost ground. It took time and patience for her renewal process to unfold. “What I saw from Zuzana last year was how much she changed over the season,” Doyle recounts. “Her first couple of races, she wasn’t that quick because she was coming back from injury. But then she won a race and I saw her confidence just rocket. She knew she was back and then she never got beaten again.”
It has provided a model for the British champion to emulate. “Now I’m telling myself I should be like that. I should be confident. I know training’s gone well. I know I can step on the track knowing I can contend.”
In 2012, Doyle was an Olympic semi-finalist but ill-at-ease. The atmosphere was overwhelming, the pressure too much to bear. If efforts have been expended to ready her body for Rio, the mind too has been honed to ensure her second Games is glitch-free.
“I love athletics, I love training and I love competing. So I should really be enjoying these moments and savouring them. The big thing I’ll take from London 2012 is to remember why I do this and why I love it – and that it’s better if you’re having fun and enjoying the process.”
Elsewhere, Perri Shakes-Drayton, Doyle’s long-time former rival, races today for the first time since sustaining a horrific ankle injury in 2013, while Luke Caldwell will run for the UK in tonight’s European 10,000m Cup in Mersin with hopes of pressing his Olympic claims.