FOCUS, focus, focus – it’s what’s they’re all doing right now. Concentrating on the race, the event, the thing which has dominated their waking hours and their dreams.
But Eilidh Child couldn’t resist breaking with her long-established routine yesterday and doing something she doesn’t normally do – wave to the crowd. The Hampden throng was just too raucous to ignore.
“That was really cool,” Child said of the roar from the stands when her name was announced before her winning performance in her 400m hurdles heat, the time of 55.56secs ensuring safe passage to tomorrow’s final. “Usually I don’t wave to the crowd because I like to try to focus but because it was such a loud cheer I couldn’t not wave and say thanks.”
Team Scotland’s poster girl then struck a deal with the crowd – another lusty reception in the final, another wave. “Another cheer like that would be great for an extra boost,” she said. “They can give me that extra kick, especially up the home straight. It’s going to be pretty close. That’s when mistakes can happen, when the athletes put pressure on each other. For me to have that roar can give me that extra edge, especially when my legs are dying.”
Up against her main rival, Jamaica’s Kaliese Spencer, Child, 27, knows what she must do. “I’ll have to take another second off my time today, at least that. Kaliese has done 53.3 this year which is a second faster than my personal best. If I want to do something on Thursday I’m going to have to break my PB.”
Yesterday, though, Child was just happy to have raced. “I was dying to get out there, put in a solid performance, blow the cobwebs away,” she added. Was she keeping calm? “I’m trying but I don’t know if I am on the inside.” To counteract the additional pressure of being so high profile at these Games, she has shut down Twitter and Facebook. Good people surround her, including fiance Brian Doyle, the Irish 400m runner, who the other day brought along her Rottweiler Ben to watch her train. “I’d been hoping I could bring him on to the track to intimidate everyone but, apparently, that’s not allowed,” she joked.
Life in the Games Village has been banterishly good. “There’s a great group of athletes who’ve been teasing me about how they keep seeing my face everywhere.” Team Scotland have been billeted at the bottom end, with water feature, and it’s nice and quiet there. Had she heard about the English complaints about Village life being a mite disruptive? “I think they’ve been put up the noisy end!” she laughed.
In his heat of the 800m, Scot Guy Learmonth had a nervous wait to find out he had qualified for today’s semi-finals, having been bumped in the race that gave Hampden its first glimpse of the peerless Kenyan David Rudisha. The 22-year-old said: “I got a nasty knock with 120 to go and that threw my whole race. Fortunately I made it because of the quick time – that’s the advantage of running with Rudisha!
“I’ve always said I’d love to race him. That wish was granted today and now I want to race him again. During warm-up you’re definitely trying not to be fazed by him. I tried to treat the race like any other, only there were 45,000 people watching. He didn’t speak to me. Mind you, I didn’t speak to him either!”
Olympic champ and world record-holder Rudisha paid warm tribute to the Hampden crowd. “Wow, it’s really fantastic,” he said. “The stadium was nearly full and I was very happy with the way they were responding and cheering.” He took it “nice and easy” in the heat, having begun his season late. Next season will be a big one for him, with Rio starting to hove into view. Still, he was utterly majestic yesterday.
In the para-sport 1,500m, Scots Sammi Kinghorn and Meggan Dawson-Farrell were cheered all the way into tomorrow’s final. Kinghorn said: “My mum and dad were wearing ‘Team Kinghorn’ T-shirts. The Hampden atmosphere was everything I imagined and a whole lot more.”