Emily Dudgeon is on track in pursuit of senior success

In the running: Emily Dudgeon feels she is handling the transition better now. Photograph: Jane Barlow
In the running: Emily Dudgeon feels she is handling the transition better now. Photograph: Jane Barlow
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Rheumatology last week, orthopaedics this, Emily Dudgeon has become versed in the discipline of drafting treatment plans as she moves through the rotations en route, she trusts, to polishing off her medical degree at the University of Dundee.

Assess, diagnose, find solutions. It is a process that the one-time world junior championship finalist – still on the right side of her presumed peak at the age of 23 – has been applying not only on ward rounds but amid travels around the athletics circuit.

Dudgeon, who was fifth in the 800 metres in a rare indoor outing at yesterday’s Scottish Championships in Glasgow, has felt wounds opened by expectations colliding brutally with reality. And although she has emerged relatively unscathed from the transition from promising junior to unsatisfied senior, contemporaries have been left bloodied by the wayside with careers and dreams mangled by fatal blows.

“As a junior you feel invincible, you haven’t experienced that many disappointments,” she says. “You think ‘last year I ran 2:02, next year I’ll go under two minutes’. And you’re on the road and it’s great. Some of that is because your first peak or success happens as quite a simple result of training and talent. Lots of people can get success at junior level. At senior level obviously, it’s much harder. You have to consciously lay a lot of framework which tackles a lot of work.”

Promise is only one indicator of potential. Few would have forecast that, when Jodie Williams set herself up as the next great women’s sprinter by taking world junior gold in 2010, we would be still waiting for the Englishwoman to fully flourish.

Or that Jamaica’s Dexter Lee, tipped for greater speeds than Usain Bolt when he retained his 100m title at the same championships, would have disappeared into the shadows. Some, like Laura Muir, mature later. Others peak too soon.

Dudgeon sensed the trajectory flatten last summer when she fell short of qualifying for the Olympic Games. An inquest was undertaken. She parted ways with veteran Scot Stuart Hogg, taking the radical decision to be coached jointly by Texas-based Dan Pfaff – who guided Greg Rutherford to long jump gold at London 2012 – and Seattle-based Danny Mackey. Myriad lessons have been learnt that the Edinburgh AC hopeful is keen to pass on. Having circulated her conclusions in a blog, she was invited to confer with the British Milers Club – who run a long-established national circuit – to see how others might be steered down gentler slopes.

“We’re working to set up a mentoring programme which we’re at the stage of launching,” she says, “where we’ll take athletes in the under-17 age group and allow them to access someone like Lynsey Sharp or Laura Weightman or Alison Leonard and ask a question like ‘what advice do you have on this?’ or ‘how would you deal with this?’

“I think that’s a resource that will be really valuable for people going through difficult times but also ones having success. There is a feeling, and I think the media contribute to it, that once you’ve had junior success then you’ll have senior success. In reality it’s a lot more complicated than that.”

Pairing elders with newbies seems such an obvious approach that you wonder why it has not been sorted before. Perhaps down to neglect, perhaps due to lazy assumption. “While we all think athletics is such a small world and everybody knows everybody, there are lots of juniors up and down the country who don’t have that,” says Dudgeon. “It’s so unnecessary to make the same mistakes year in and year out.”

She has had her trials and errors. Now a new Olympic cycle begins with fresh opportunities to plot a route map towards Tokyo 2020. Pfaff and Mackey have changed her approach but also broadened her horizons. Running indoors, like this afternoon at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena, is but one shift they hope will leave Dudgeon in the rudest of health.

“This is part of us getting to know each other and seeing how we’re getting with different approaches to things.

“Part of it is practising racing because I’ve been working a lot on my psychology and mentality. And this is a good way to put some of this into practice in a live situation.”