Barcelona offers a chance of glory for Scot Eilidh Child and others
AS the rain lashes off the roof above, Eilidh Child goes through the motions of stretching and jogging, preparing herself for the daily immersion in the art of one-lap hurdling at her home track in Pitreavie.
At the other end of the indoor training centre, a group of primary pupils are being introduced to the simple tasks of running, jumping and throwing, oblivious to the relative celebrity of the Lycra-clad group on view.
"I remember doing that," remarks Child who, at 23, has now fully outgrown her surname. Initially, she only came here to keep her sister company on the car ride from their Perthshire home. Even after her talent was acknowledged, it remained principally an outlet for youthful exuberance. Only later did she infuse this hobby with purpose. "I never wanted a normal job," she states. Throwing herself into the unconventional life of an athlete was easy. Making the grade, and justifying the sacrifices, is anything but.
The growing pains behind her, Child goes into this week's European Championships in Barcelona ready to illustrate her maturation into a truly international-class performer. Last year, she won silver in the continent's Under-23 showcase before reaching the semi-finals of the world championships. It was a coming of age, of sorts.
"What I learnt in Berlin was just to enjoy the experience," she reveals. "I hadn't expected to go there at the start of the season. It just went really well last year and Berlin was a bonus." No longer up and coming, she now feels the burden of entering the establishment. Getting to the final in Barcelona is the minimum requirement. "It's about how you perform on the day but for me, I'll be disappointed not to get there."
That kind of ambition mirrors the elevated targets being set by UK Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee. The Dutchman has taken few passengers to Spain, focusing on those who have proved their worth. That Lee McConnell, for so long Scotland's track and field torchbearer, was given an individual 400 metres place despite her failure to land the stipulated qualifying time, was a mild surprise. Two years out from the London Olympics, resources are being increasingly concentrated on athletes who might deliver medals rather than merely filling up a lane.
Child, by day a PE teacher at Perth Grammar, has passed up on much to pursue her dream of contending for immortality in England's capital. Training and competing take her regularly away from school and her elite status may soon necessitate a reluctant career break. "The kids keep me grounded," she admits. "Last year, it was quite exciting for them because they saw me at the Europa Cup and I came and they went ‘Miss, we saw you on telly'."
Retaining that status as a minor star of the small screen means living what Child describes as a "really boring" life. Feet up on the sofa. Early nights. "The focus is such that you have cross the Ts and dot the Is," agrees her fellow Scot, Steph Twell, who goes in the 1500 metres on Friday. "But I've taken this direction in life and it's given me a life. You can't dwell on it because I want to achieve what I aspire to and be the best I can be."
Few can deviate from the formula of work, rest and no play, though it would not be inconceivable to spot Phillips Idowu partying in the Ramblas until dawn ahead of the triple jump. Great Britain's world champion, to Van Commenee's chagrin, dances to his own tune. Others, with less natural talent, need every joule of energy they can muster.
Idowu apart, there are several obvious British medal hopes headed to the Estadi Olimpic. Jessica Ennis, despite recent illness and injury, remains the outstanding favourite in the heptathlon. Lisa Dobriskey, second in Berlin last summer, looks better equipped than the still-improving Twell to challenge in the 1500 metres. Jenny Meadows, who took 800 metres bronze at the worlds, has received intensive physio in a bid to overcome a suspected calf tear.
Among the five Scots, who also include marathon runners Sue Partridge and Martin Williams, McConnell - in the relay - offers the greatest prospects of a Caledonian conquest in the Catalan capital. "We've got a good squad," says the Glaswegian, who will likely anchor the GB quartet in the absence of Christine Ohuruogu. "On paper, I think we're second behind the Russians."
With most of the country's best performers tailoring their summer towards Barcelona rather than October's Commonwealth Games, others could seize their moment. David Greene is ranked number one in the 400 hurdles while Dwain Chambers faces a fascinating scrap in the 100 metres with French tyro Christophe Lemaitre. "There is a lot of depth in the GB squad," Child affirms. "There might be some surprise medallists there."
What hope of her joining them? Having set a new Scottish record earlier this summer, and ending up second in the European Team Championships, Child succumbed to illness and has toiled to regain lost ground. In the interim, Perry Shakes-Drayton - her conqueror at the European Under-23s - overtook her domestic rival in the standings with a sub-55 seconds run that enhanced her own prospectus. Realistically, Russia's Natalya Antyukh and the Czech Republic's Zuzana Hejnov look a class apart. "The rest of us are level and there's real depth there," asserts the seventh-ranked Scot. "So you could either finish fourth or not get to the final at all."
Neither outcome would satisfy. In rain and shine, she has leapt hurdle after hurdle to excel, trading parties and weddings for extra hundredths of a second.
That, she shrugs, is what it takes. As she heads off to lift weights, a piercing yelp from a delighted kid reaffirms the innocent joy of running from A to B. For Child, chasing gold has long ceased to be a mere infantile pursuit.
Athletics European Championships Preview
European Championships Preview Athletics
Dwain Chambers (100m)
The Londoner's first sub-10 seconds run since his drugs ban was quickly usurped by France's Christophe Lemaitre. Can Chambers now respond and go better than his tarnished silver of 1998?
Phillips Idowu (Triple Jump)
Hackney's finest has been overtaken in the European rankings by the prodigious Teddy Tamgho. However the Frenchman is a doubt for Barcelona.
David Greene (400m Hurdles)
The Welshman has had a virtually anonymous rise to prominence but the rankings suggest he could end up as number one in Barcelona.
Jessica Ennis (Heptathlon)
Fit again, the quick track in Barcelona should play to her strength in the 100-metres hurdles.
Lisa Dobriskey (1500m)
The resilient Dobriskey recaptured her best form since the world championships with a sub-4 minute run in Paris last week.
Laura Turner (100m)
Coached by Linford Christie, Turner moved into third place on the all-time UK 100 metres list with a 11.11 second sprint in Switzerland this month. A genuine contender for gold.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West