Chris O’Hare described the Scots as a nation of terriers and, at this weekend’s British Championships, he and his compatriots proved that they have bite to match the bark.
The original target for Scottish athletics was half a dozen competitors on the plane to Rio. They have smashed that tally, with no fewer than 12 Scots now automatic picks for Team GB and NI, with the potential for that to rise further. It is the largest representation since Munich in 1972.
Ahead of the Olympic trials in Birmingham, four athletes were already assured their place and on Saturday, Andrew Butchart made it five with an emphatic victory in the 5000m.
A positive start to the event, things only got better yesterday, with Eilidh Doyle, Lennie Waite, O’Hare, Laura Muir, Steph Twell, Eilish McColgan and Lynsey Sharp all living up to their billing and backing up recent qualifying times with the race positions needed to guarantee their selection for Rio.
“If you look back to even before London [in 2012], it was mainly just Eilidh [Doyle] and one or two others,” said O’Hare after he steered clear of a tumble and trouble in the 1500m final to follow Charlie Grice over the line. “But Eilidh has really given us all the belief that Scots are just as good as anyone and we can compete. Hopefully this generation, at this Olympics, can show younger kids that and we will have even more in 2020. Scots will always have that terrier mentality, where we are the small dog that needs to fight twice as hard and bark twice as loud but that’s a good trait to have in this sport.”
Doyle set the ball rolling yesterday, the first Scot to be bestowed with one of the green and yellow garlands presented to the athletes who rubber stamped their Olympic place.
After a dominant performance in the 400m hurdles, in blustery conditions, she said she was happy with the performance and relieved. “A lot of folk said: ‘you’ve got no pressure on you’ but it’s tough being the favourite. I just wanted to get the job done. I thought something would have to go terribly wrong not to be there [in Rio]. But now I can walk away knowing I’m definitely going. I’ve built all year towards that but now there’s not that doubt in the back of my mind. It’s a nice feeling.”
That sense of relief was shared by her team-mates. While Doyle won her event, the likes of O’Hare and Lynsey Sharp were content to finish in the top two, doing all that was necessary on the day and now focus all their energies on preparing for the Olympics.
“It would have been nice to win,” admitted O’Hare before adding it was all about the bigger picture. “My coach said to me before the race, just make sure you are top two and then you do whatever you can to win the race.”
“I think when you’re in that top position, having won the title a few years in a row, I was probably the one to be beaten,” said defending 800m champion Sharp, who was overtaken in the home straight by Shelayna Oskan-Clarke, who won in 2:01.99. The Scot followed her home in 2:02.14. “They put me to the front and I was there to be shot at, and unfortunately I just tied up in the last ten metres. But it’s about what happens in six weeks’ time. This time last year I won here and then things didn’t go as well [at the World Championships] in Beijing. If I can do it the other way round, that would be great.”
Running 9:54.06, which is well shy of her fastest time, Waite qualified in the women’s 3000m steeplechase, despite coming second to Rosie Clarke, who recorded a personal best of 9:52.20. But the US-based Scot best summed up the joy of the day.
“I’m a freaking Olympian!” said the 29-year-old. “I can’t really believe it. Who actually becomes an Olympian. You think it’s just such a small percentage of people with magical powers who make it. But here I am. I’ve made it. I don’t have magical powers. I just trained at a crazy level with this voice in the back of my head that told me to keep on going.”
Laura Muir, who finished fifth at last year’s World Championships showed her class in the women’s 1500m. The favourite, she justified that label, crossing the line almost a second ahead of Laura Weightman in 4:10.14. “The last 150m I put the foot to the floor and went for it,” said Muir. “I felt a bit emotional afterwards. I’m going to the Olympics! I see pressure now as a good thing. I take a lot of pride out of the fact people are expecting you to do well.”
But expectations have been exceeded. “I am thrilled that the numbers add-up. Six was a target we had spoken about within the sport so to exceed that so emphatically is a massive encouragement,” said Scottish Athletics director of coaching Rodger Harkins.
In total Scottish athletes snagged 14 medals yesterday, taking the overall British Championships tally for 2016 to a superb 16 in all – seven gold, five silver and four bronze. In the hammer, Scottish throwers Chris Bennett and Mark Dry took gold and silver medals and while they don’t have Olympic qualifying standards, they may still make the GB team for the European Championships in Holland next month.