When Michael Shelley crossed the line victorious at the end of the Commonwealth Games marathon two months ago, the sense of disbelief that an unheralded Australian had left the combined challenge of Africa in his wake was not just confined to those watching on. “I’m still pinching myself,” the 30-year-old Queenslander grinned yesterday as he returned to the scene of his finest hour.
Pacing himself around the local streets in preparation for his valedictory tour in tomorrow’s Bank of Scotland Great Scottish Run refreshed the joyous memories of his golden run at Glasgow 2014. “The blue line was still out there on part of the course. I remember training round this in the lead-up so it feels good to be back.”
This time, he will have around 25,000 others, of varying abilities, for company in the annual showpiece. And although Kenya’s Stephen Chemlany, who took silver at the Commonwealths, will rank highly among them, both men would admit their summer souvenirs were secured amid a field that lacked anyone of a stature remotely approaching Haile Gebrselassie.
The Ethiopian legend, twice an Olympic champion, may now be 41 years young but he remains a potent force on the roads and an obdurate foe even for those a decade younger. At this event in 2013, on his debut on Scottish soil, the maestro swept to victory in a time of 61 minutes and nine seconds, a world best for those in their fifth decade and an inspiration for anyone edging out of their genetic prime.
His mere presence, Shelley concedes, is enough to infuse his would-be rivals with an extra edge. “Facing Haile’s very special. He’s someone I’ve grown up watching and been amazed at his achievements and how he runs. So to be standing next to him is going to be quite special. Talking to my mates back home even, they’re aware of who he is and how incredible an athlete he is. He’s an idol. It’s hard even to describe what it will be like.”
His would be a glorious scalp. There is, on the flip side, the possible ignominy of losing to a veteran, no matter how illustrious his past. “I wouldn’t mind getting beaten by him,” Shelley smiles. “But I’ll be doing the best I can to win. I can’t control what he or anyone else does, just me. I’ll be out there running as hard as I can to get the best possible result. And I’ve got a good record on these streets.”
Back in his hometown, they will follow his progress a little more closely than in past excursions. In Gold Coast, where the 2018 Commonwealths will be staged, he was feted upon his return with a grand party in his honour. At Helensvale High School, his alma mater, his gold was but one addition to an already lengthy honour roll headed by the reigning Olympic 100m hurdles gold medallist Sally Pearson and one-time French and US Open tennis champion Sam Stosur.
“I did sport with Sally and I graduated with Sam in the same class,” said Shelley. “Plus we also had Lynsey Clarke who competed in lawn bowls in Glasgow. They’re planning to name the school houses now after former students so you’ll have a Pearson house, a Stosur house and a Shelley house. Receiving that sort of honour, being part of the school’s history, is just amazing.”
The women’s field in Glasgow is headed by London 2012 marathon gold medallist Tiki Gelana, fresh from coming third at the recent Great North Run in Newcastle, with the Ethiopian set for a challenge from twice world champion Edna Kiplagat.
There will also be a strong domestic field in an event that doubles as the Scottish championship with Susan Partridge, in her final outing of a satisfactory season, facing evergreen veteran Hayley Haining, plus Great Britain international Beth Potter who is making her debut at the distance. It is not, Potter confirms, a prelude to a step up to the full marathon. “I’m only 22. I want to have a proper go at the 5,000 metres more than anything. I feel I could have done a much faster time this year but the races I was in were all championships rather than ones that would be time trials.”
Thirteen miles will, however, provide a useful benchmark at the outset of a winter’s training which will be geared towards qualification for next summer’s world championships in Beijing. Now on the cusp of the elite, the Glaswegian has no desire to regress. “I can’t lie, I’ve been a bit sad since the Commonwealths ended,” Potter said. “I’ve kept going through the injuries and the bad times but when you run well, it makes up for it.”
Jade Jones and Simon Lawson lead the wheelchair field while another GB international, Callum Hawkins, is favourite in the adjoining 10-kilometres.