ALTHOUGH Jack Wilson, a 19-year-old Hawick millworker, is the 4-6 favourite to capture the £4000 first prize when he final of the New Year Sprint is held at Musselburgh Racecourse later today, there is still a double chance of sporting history being made.
Last year’s winner Ben Robbins (Edinburgh AC) has qualified for today’s cross-ties and could still emulate the feat of Glasgow’s Willie McFarlane, who in 1934, retained the title. Meanwhile, Gemma Nicol (Dunfermline), is one of three women to qualify for these four semi-finals and thus, in the 145th annual edition of this unique professional handicap, could become the first female winner.
Nicol looked relaxed as she won the third heat in 12.22 seconds then revealed that she had completed a weights session the previous day and a session of repetition 500 metres on Saturday.
The 27-year-old former runner-up also decided to do a standing start as she has done no block work recently and did not want to stumble on the soft grass.
“I might practise some starts for tomorrow,” joked Scottish 400 metres champion Nicol, who has been focussed on her over distance build-up for the coming indoor season. The others Fiona Cleat (EAC) and Rachel Robertson (Lasswade) came through as fastest losers in their heats, Cleat, the 2011 final runner-up, finishing third in heat two in 12.02 secs, the same as Robbins who was second in the same time behind Cameron Smith (Central AC), whose time was 12.02.
Robbins was delighted to get through: “He came here hoping to get to the final but short of a run or two, but if he can find a metre or two tomorrow, he’s in the mix,” said his coach Dave Goodall.
Sadly Robbins’ clubmate backmarker Morrow Bajo, suffered a pulled hamstring in heat four and had to be helped from the track.
Cleat, a pharmacy student at Strathclyde University, had been training with Lee McConnell’s coach Roger Harkins but, more recently, has been trying track cycling and won a bronze medal in the 2013 British Universities team sprint championship.
Robertson off 20 metres, came through in heat six behind Kevin Eddie (Dunfermline 9m) whose time was 12.09 and who later went on to win the Pat Chester Open 90 metres handicap off 9.25m in 9.94 secs from Liam Halliday (Denny 8.25m), thus bucking the trend of successful 110m heat winners who then withdraw from the consolation event.
His reward was a £300 first prize with the prospect of more to come. Eddie, a 31-year-old estimator, who has been training with 2006 “Big Sprint” winner Cumbie Bowers, and Billy Martin at Glenrothes, paid tribute to his 75-year-old coach Jimmy Beattie, saying: “He’s an inspiration – you don’t find enough people like him around.”
Third overall in the 90 metres and winner of the veterans’ cross-tie was 58-year-old David Grieve (Hawick 13.5m), who, like Jack Wilson, is coached by Borders veteran Bill Edgar.
If the rangy Wilson, whose father Gary was runner-up in 2004, can withstand the pressure of being favourite then he can pull off a fine double by winning both senior sprints.
Wilson, a former rugby player who has given up to concentrate on his running appears to enjoy the heavy ground and his coach would be quite happy if tomorrow’s forecast of heavy rain comes true.
Scotland’s Commonwealth Games 1500 metres choice, Chris O’Hare, was there to see his younger brother Dominic win the quirkily named “four furlongs” straight race in which the runners emerge out of the distance in single file.
Dominic also won last year’s youth race.