THREE young capital sprinters, all members of Edinburgh AC, could make a three-pronged attack on the 144th New Year Sprint at Musselburgh Racecourse on Monday and Tuesday.
Morro Bajo, the backmarker, Ben Robbins, the early favourite, and Allan Hamilton, a champion long jumper, are all capable of capturing the £4000 first prize which will go to the winner of the famous professional 110 metres handicap, the heats of which are on Monday and the cross-ties or semi-finals and final are on New Year’s Day.
Club loyalties must be forgotten. Although relations between these athletes are cordial enough for them to be relay team-mates, this is a single-minded pursuit of the loot, a potential four-figure bonus to boost the training fund which is sure to be depleted by long costly trips to the south and elsewhere.
It’s a far cry from the days when the 1981 winner Angus McCuaig had to pay back his winnings in an absurd, ritual purification in order to be cleared to represent Scotland in the 1982 Commonwealth Games. All three capital contenders, however, owe much of their success to dedicated coaches.
Bajo, the talented Gambian-born Drummond High pupil nurtured by veteran mentor Bill Walker, was, at the age of only 16, the third fastest senior in Scotland last season over 100 metres with a time of 10.76 secs and second fastest over 200 (21.77).
He also won the Gambian 100 metres title and could have represented Gambia in the Olympics, but turned down the chance. “I want to run for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games,” he stated.
Bajo, off 3.5 metres, goes in heat seven of the ten heats where he faces one of Hamilton’s training partners Toby Harris (6.75m) and previous runner-up Gemma Nicol (Dunfermline, 16.5m)) and her mother Wendy (28.75m).
Last year’s New Year youth sprint winner Robbins, a member of the Scottish under-18 rugby squad until he and his coach Dave Goodall negotiated a year off for him to concentrate on his athletics, was in the final of the Scottish senior 400 metres last June and is another 16-year-old loaded with talent. He was the early 3-1 favourite with bookmaker Peter Collins after the draw.
The scorer of two tries for George Watsons College in the recent final of the Scottish Schools rugby cup, Robbins, who is in heat ten off 7.5m, should have no problems coping with the heavy grass, if not mud, which is likely to be the surface at Musselburgh, but he may have to scamper to hold off Kelso’s would-be Turkish Olympian Iskan Barskanmay (5.75m), a former Jed Sprint winner.
Hamilton, a 20-year-old pharmacology student at Queen Margaret University, has little recent sprint form, though his record as a long jumper – he was runner-up to John Carr for the national senior title earlier this year – indicates he has the sort of background to follow the example of another converted Capital long jumper, 1980 Olympic 100 metres champion Allan Wells.
Hamilton’s grandfather is George Sinclair, doyen of the city’s coaches whose 1970 Edinburgh Southern Harriers women’s sprint relay team still hold the Scottish record. “Allan’s been an outstanding young sprinter and won Scottish Schools titles – he’s got the all-round ability,” he says.
Hamilton is coached by John Scott, whose other successes include World bobsleigh champion and Scottish long jump champion Gillian Cooke. “Allan was a very good footballer and he’s an exceptional runner on grass – he could do well and he wants the money.”
The backmarker in heat eight off four metres, Hamilton has a trio of Jedforest runners to beat including Scot Richardson (7m). Apart from Toby Harris, another of his training group is another long jumper, Musselburgh native Sarah Warnock, who, like Hamilton, is studying at Queen Margaret and has a start of 20m in heat five where her rivals include previous runner-up Fiona Cleat (20.25m), two previous sprint winners, Hawick’s Leigh Marshall (5.75m) and Cumbie Bowers (Glenrothes 6.5m), and the strongest tip of the Border runners Dylan Ali (Tweedbank).
Kirkcaldy coach Eric Simpson is somewhat dismissive of his chances of landing a treble of winners, especially as his most favoured runner this time, Ewan Dyer (Pitreavie), recently fell down stairs and broke a bone in his right hand, and last year’s winner Graeme Lister (Kirkcaldy) has been pulled back seven metres this time. Simpson, however, still believes that Lister will find something more and be competitive this time. “Lister will give them a fright,” he says.
Dyer, who still intends to run, is in possibly the toughest heat of all – heat one – which includes Jed Sprint winner and former youths winner Kieran Kivin (EAC 4.5m), Jordan Charters (Lasswade 9.25m), Amy Clancy (Peebles 18.75m) and Kelso’s David McKay.
Double Scottish Commonwealth Games rep Gemma Nicol (Dunfermline) has confirmed that she will run in Monday’s heats.
Nicol, 26, and runner-up in 2006, has been a finalist on four other occasions, the first in 2003 when she was third.
She will bid once again to become the first-ever female winner of the race.