Athletics chief Stephen Maguire out to revive Scottish sprinting

When Stephen Maguire opted to return to scottishathletics as Director of Performance and Coaching last year, he claimed there was some unfinished business.

Beth Dobbin is Scotland's best sprint prospect.  Picutre: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Beth Dobbin is Scotland's best sprint prospect. Picutre: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Director of Coaching between 2012 and 2014, he made a significant impact during that time and was a driving force in the development and growth of the sport, which is continuing unabated, with the rise of Laura Muir and the strength in depth throughout the middle distance and endurance ranks.

But, having spent the past five years working with British sprinters, hurdlers and relay athletes, earning plaudits and the BBC Sports Coach of the Year award in 2017 as reward for the success of the GB relay teams, he wants to see Scotland producing the power and speed over the shorter distances as well, where currently the quality and the quantity is lacking.

“It’s an area we’re going to develop, with a relay programme to train and compete together and use it as a vehicle for coach and athlete,” said Maguire, pictured. “It’s not acceptable that you can still win a national title at 10.60.”

Scotland has a rich tradition in sprinting thanks to the likes of Allan Wells. Picture: Steve Powell/Getty Images

Not when that means the gap between the best Scottish sprinters and even a place in a final is drifting further and further apart.

Under his guidance, along with fellow coaches Benke Blomkvist and Christian Malcolm, Maguire got results with the GB relay teams and believes he can improve matters here, too.

At the Rio Olympics, the women’s 4x100 metres and 4x400m teams clinched bronze and both succeeded in upgrading them, to two silvers, at the World Championships a year later. The upsurge in form and fortunes was even more notable with the men, with both teams missing out on the podium in Brazil but then emerging from nowhere to win the 4x100m and claim bronze in the 4x400m in London. And while other nations have dominated sprints in recent times, Maguire pooh-poohs the notion that genetically Scots are unable to compete at the highest level over the shorter distances.

“We’ve had Ian Mackie and Elliot Bunney – and Allan Wells winning an Olympic title. Sprinting’s not just disappeared here. Something’s going wrong.”

But it is about unearthing the talent and plotting their best strategy.

At the moment, Beth Dobbin is the best sprint prospect in the country and Maguire, who is still involved in helping the British Athletics relay programme, believes that harnessing the 24-year-old Scot’s speed in a flying leg of the team discipline could prove mutually beneficial.

“She’s been very honest and wants to make herself available for 4x400 and I’m dying to bring more 200m speed in. But over 200, she’s got to make another breakthrough. She’s a talented girl. But to move up to 400 from an individual perspective is probably too much. That’s my advice. You don’t have to go up.

“Ultimately, is she an athlete who is going to run 51.00, then 50 secs [over 400m] and then what’s left for a final? I don’t know if she has that physiology. But is she someone who can run a world-class second leg? Absolutely.”

History and an impressive CV would suggest that Maguire and his ferocious work ethic and determination will reap rewards, provided he can find the athletes who match his quest for improvement and his aversion to simply resting on laurels.

Which is why he holds Muir in such high esteem. The 25-year-old
has started the year with a bang, having completed another European Indoor Championship double of 1,500m and 3,000m golds and the manner of the victories has elevated hopes ahead of the World Championships in Doha later this year.

“When I meet people in the street, the first thing I get asked: what she’s like – and she’s really nice. She’s grown a lot. I’ve kept an eye on her in GB teams and she’s developed a lot.

“She absolutely hurt after [the 2014] Commonwealths but she reflects a lot and learns… the trust between athlete and coach is huge. You could argue that women’s 1,500 has never been stronger and she’s right at the top of that tree now.”

While Muir knows her goals, ensuring others have the right vision, mentality, training and race programmes in place is more tricky. “For Laura, it’s quite clear. It’s about global and Olympic medals but for some of the others, it’s about opportunities… it’s about reality. You can’t be patting people on the back and reflecting on past glories.

“I hear some talking about getting a qualifying time but if that’s on your mind, you’re not going to get a medal. For our top people, it’s about doing well in Doha, not qualification itself.”

Although even the homegrown competition means that there will be upset before the plane even leaves for Doha, with only three making the team and several contenders over 1,500m, in particular.

“For the likes of Jake [Wightman] and Chris O’Hare, they’ll be gunning for British trials and then on to Doha. But if you look at Josh Kerr, who’s not got much experience but has an unbelievable talent, it’s about plotting that best course.

“It is a dust-up. The event in Scotland is unbelievably strong. It’s world class. Within Britain, it’s hot. But it needs to be because it’s hot at world level. Look at the Ethiopian guy [Samuel Tefera] who recently broke the world record. That’s the standard. You could run 3:34 and not make the required time.”

Maguire is a guy who will never shy away from those real conversations, not while there’s unfinished business to address.