Callum Hawkins did not know whether to laugh or cry as he crossed the line in second place in the Great Edinburgh International Cross-Country. Roared on by a boisterous home crowd, the Scot had grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck and set a pace that only one other runner could live with. Unfortunately for him, that competitor, USA’s Kenyan-born Leonard Korir, had enough left in the legs to sprint past him with the final few strides of the 8km race.
“I thought I had it but I couldn’t hear because of the crowd! I’m pleased with the way I ran, but obviously a bit disappointed to get beat, but I gave it my all and I’m seeing stars now! I noticed there was a bit of gap, but I slipped at the last burn bit but I don’t know if that would have made a difference. He’s a quality athlete. I’m just happy I even pushed him like that. I just went for it to see what happened.”
Out in front from the start, the 24-year-old was cheered on by his Kilbarchan AC club-mates as he stretched out the field. It was a bold tactic but it very nearly paid off. “Over the last year or so I’ve just developed the thought of ‘just go out, if I die, I die, but just go for the win’; if it works then great things can happen, but if I fall short then I’m still way up there.”
Initially, defending champion Garrett Heath was able to keep pace but soon dropped away, leaving just the Scot and Korir to battle it out ahead of the rest.
Mo Farah had been expected to play a bigger part in deciding the outcome of the race but last year’s runner-up was unable to match his compatriot, who became the first Briton to beat the multiple Olympic gold medallist in any race since 2010. Farah had been back in 17th at one stage and although he did work his way up to seventh, he finished 45 seconds adrift of Hawkins.
“All credit to Callum, he is a great athlete and he showed that without a doubt, what a great performance,” said Farah. I was hoping that he was going to win the race. At the end it was pretty close but he is a great athlete.
“He has shown that he is a great fighter, like Laura Muir. He just has something about him. Even last year, he worked so hard to get rid of us and it just got away from him. Again today, he made it so hard for us. He can do well, he wants it more than everyone else. So he can do well.”
In what was likely to be his last ever cross country race as he winds up his track career this season and turns his attentions to road running and marathons next year, Farah was denied the victorious curtain call he had been hoping for and it leaves him with plenty of work to do if he is to peak in the summer and add a third consecutive World Championship double, in London, in August.
“Having experienced the things I have I should be able to get it right,” he said. “ I am just not where I want to be but that is the reality and it showed. I just have to go back and refocus again.
“I am disappointed with seventh but you have got to be honest with yourself and the last couple of weeks of training haven’t gone as well as I wanted. I could have pulled out of the race and stayed at home but I was running for my country.”
The fact that Hawkins had the belief and the ability to get the better of him is encouraging not just for the young Scot but for the future of British distance running. Hawkins, who has earned pre-selection for this year’s World Championship marathon courtesy of his ninth place finish in last year’s Olympic marathon, said that the confidence is only building.
“I think if he has an off day like he did today then there are now a few of us who can take him,” said Hawkins. “It shows what he has done for British athletics, to spur people on, guys like myself, Andy Vernon and Andy Butchart, as well. I think it shows that British athletics is moving on and moving in the right way.
“Definitely, this gives me a boost and I’m really can’t wait for this year.”
Able to sit out the London Marathon qualifiers this year, he has high hopes of pushing towards a podium position at the World and then on to the Commonwealth Games in Australia early next year. “I’m just going to do what I did in Rio and here and put myself up there and see what happens.
“We will see what the competition is like [at the Worlds, in London] but it is on home ground and that might give me an edge.”