YOU know you’re in the form of your life when you run not one, not two, but four personal bests in the space of a few weeks. When you reach the final of the British Championships for the first time. When you are selected for your first senior Great Britain vest, and it happens to be for the team for the IAAF World Championships.
That was 2013 for Jamie Bowie: a breakthrough season that proved he can compete at the highest level. The challenge now for the 400-metre runner from Inverness, as he looks ahead to the Commonwealth Games, is to build on what he achieved last summer.
Now 24, Bowie had a foretaste of this year’s success in 2011, when he won a gold medal as part of the relay team at the European Under-23 championships. Then, the conditions were not right for him to sustain his good form into 2012. This time round, by contrast, everything is in place.
“This year has been a bit of a transformation,” he explains. “In 2011 I had a big breakthrough, but then in 2012 there were different circumstances: I’d just graduated from uni, I was trying to find a job – probably my life was at a bit of a crossroads that year.
“I needed to decide: do I go for athletics or go for a career? And if I go for athletics how do I make it sustainable for me?
“I spoke to my parents and they were very supportive. They said ‘You only get one shot at a sporting career’. And especially with Glasgow 2014 being there, I’d rather try and fail than never try at all, so I decided to give it a shot.
“So 2012 was a bit of a flux year; a year to find a good balance. This year was quite a big step up.”
With a first-class honours degree in international management and languages from Heriot-Watt University, Bowie could easily have found a more lucrative career than athletics. But his decision to commit himself to sport was rewarded in October when he was named in British Athletics’ Olympic funding programme, and he also has two part-time posts working with young people: as an athletics development officer in East Lothian, and as a schools champion for the Winning Scotland Foundation.
At the time he was selected for the World Championships team, Bowie was the only member of the relay squad not to be part of the governing body’s funding programme. His inclusion was therefore a surprise to some, but he fully justified it with a third-leg run in the heats which ensured the British team qualified for the final.
The selectors reverted to their most experienced quartet for the final, and although he would have loved to take part in that race, he knows that, having been given no guarantee of running at all when he went to Moscow, he gained priceless experience from everything about the trip. “I went out to the holding camp expecting to take in the experience and thinking I probably wouldn’t get the opportunity to run. But I prepared myself for it and told myself I’d do everything I could to prove I was ready to run.
“There were two sessions we had that were relay training sessions, and I very much knew I needed to bring my best game along to them, because they would probably decide who would run and possibly what order they would run in. I probably surprised myself at how well I performed at the last session, and after that I thought ‘Well, I’ve put myself out there’.”
More precisely, he had put himself into the team for the heats. Running the third leg, he came down the home straight neck and neck with his Jamaican rival for the lead, ensuring Martyn Rooney of a comfortable qualification for the final in second place.
“As soon as I finished I was totally knackered,” he remembers. “But I was a bit disappointed I hadn’t managed to hand the baton over a fraction ahead. I think we handed over at exactly the same moment.
“Afterwards when I got an unofficial split of 44.8 seconds I was quite taken aback. My personal best is 46.06. Then the official time was 44.64. I was really proud of that moment.
“I was naturally disappointed not to get a run in the final, but you can’t take anything away from the guys that actually ran. They gave it their all, and I did my job cheering them on.
“I would have liked the opportunity to prove myself again, but I’m happy with how I ran in the heats. I couldn’t really do anything more.”
The British quartet were fourth in the final, almost a full second out of the medals. What Bowie doesn’t mention is the fact their run in the final without him was also almost 0.4sec slower than their time with him in the heats.
That margin of 0.4sec will soon take on a special importance for Bowie as his attention turns to qualifying for Glasgow, because he still needs to take that slice off his personal best to get into the Scotland team for the individual 400m. After the strides he has made this season, you would be foolish to bet against him.
l Jamie Bowie will write a monthly column for The Scotsman in the build-up to Glasgow 2014, coming soon.