FOR many athletes, when viewed in the context of the entire season, indoor events may as well be the warm up area of a major outdoor event.
It’s where the fine tuning takes place and competitors can psych each other out with the kind of performances that leave some buoyant and others doubting their entire winter training programme.
With the Commonwealth Games looming, this season is still all about peaking at the right time but, with five Scots selected by UK Athletics for next weekend’s World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, the early signs are encouraging.
That represents the country’s biggest-ever contingent at the bi-annual event. In 1993 there were three Scots in the GB team, with Tom McKean and Yvonne Murray bringing home 800 metre and 3,000m golds and David Strang weighing in with silver in the 1,500m. The immediate podium prospects are more understated this time but the long-term potential is vast, according to Scottish Director of Coaching Stephen Maguire.
“Being honest, some at them are not going to be at their peak until the next games at least but they are already competing at a very high level and that has to inspire. A lot of these athletes are still in the early stages of their own development but they are already elite athletes. It’s very, very exciting for the sport in this country when you look at these athletes as well as some of the under-age results and the work being done on the coaching side of things. It’s still not anywhere near where I want it to be, and it’s not ideal and I can assure you we are not looking at it through rose tinted glasses because we know there is still lots and lots and lots of work to do but, if you look at the raw ingredient which is the athletes, then the potential is enormous.”
In Sopot, though, a repeat of the 1993 flush of medals for all the Scottish athletes is not anticipated.
Twenty-year-old student Laura Muir, who has forced people to sit up and take notice with her early season form in both the 800m and 1,500m, competes over the shorter distance, Eilish McColgan has been selected at 3,000m, Chris O’Hare goes in the 1,500m and both Eilidh Child and Jamie Bowie will run in the 4x400m relays.
“I wouldn’t be looking at putting pressure on them,” said Maguire. “People will be looking at Laura now and thinking she can do anything and that’s the way I look at that. First and foremost, she is getting experience at this level and that is brilliant. I wouldn’t be one for piling the pressure on or putting a medal around her neck but she has been delivering some fantastic performances.”
Muir is currently ranked No.1 in the world over 800m indoors and emphasised the fine form she is in when she smashed the Scottish 1,500m record in Birmingham last month. It means double Olympic champion Kelly Holmes is the only UK athlete to have gone faster over the distance indoors.
Meanwhile Child is only going for the relay but that doesn’t concern Maguire. He said: “Eilidh has made what I think is a wise decision. Because of the big summer she has coming up, she has decided to concentrate on the 4x400m this time and didn’t take up the individual selection so that is good for her and that team will be in medal contention.
“Jamie in the men’s 4x400m is still a developing athlete but things are going well.
“Chris O’Hare has shown that he can absolutely perform and Eilish has shown her potential. If she is in there, anything can happen.
“They will all have different goals this time and it’s not about expecting a medal from every athlete but any athlete that stands on the track at the start wants to win and they won’t have any fear and that is great. They are potentially as good as anyone in the world and they have all earned their selection so why should they fear anyone?”
Working hard behind the scenes to ensure there is the breadth and depth of coaching provision needed to capitalise if the burgeoning crop of homegrown elite performers, combined with the hosting of the Diamond League meet in Glasgow in July, followed by the Commonwealth Games a couple of weeks later, attracts greater numbers and greater dedication, Maguire says there is good cause for excitement.
“Looking at the World Indoors, I think it’s a nice representation of where our athletes are now at. I’m happy about it and I keep coming back to the fact that everything at this time is still a stepping stone to the Commonwealth Games. It is providing the athletes with a good foundation and it gives the coaches an opportunity to look and see exactly where their athletes are at a competitive level and gives them all something to build on.
“A lot of them will be very, very happy, I’m sure, because many of the plans they put in place over the winter seem to be working and that is good. The people going to Poland have the opportunity to go into a world-class environment, compete at a world championships and, given the age profile of our athletes, it is all about experience and taking another step towards being the very best they can be and seeing where that takes them.
“The good start to the year has generated a lot of excitement and that is great when we have the Commonwealth Games coming up.”