“Show us your medals,” the kids scream. Ceaselessly obliging, Eilidh Doyle is only too happy to allow their wide eyes to bulge open and admire. Their sheen can light up even the most disengaged room, the Scot knows from past experience, the scarcity of being able to see what success looks like up close able to blow minds, young and old.
“I’ve noticed it a lot more with the Olympic medal,” admits the hurdler who achieved a career high with 4x400 relay bronze in Rio last August. “Because you’re surrounded so often by other athletes, it almost feels normal to have these things. You need this sometimes, to feel the excitement, especially from kids. I remember it from when I was younger, meeting athletes and seeing what they had. It makes you stop and appreciate what you’ve done.”
Now 30, Doyle is an anointed elder stateswoman of British athletics charged with mentoring some of her would-be successors. Yet she is not done yet, far from it. Her silver at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade last week took her major championship medal haul to ten, still well short of Kathy Cook’s British female mark of 23, but extending her lead as Scotland’s most garlanded.
The spoils are scattered all over. “Mum and Dad used to have most of them but most of them now we have at our flat,” she admits. “One day we’ll get them in one place and do something properly.” However, any trophy cabinet should leave room for expansion with the opportunities for more hardware arriving thick and fast.
Inside the next 18 months, there will be an outdoor World Championships in London and the indoor variant in Birmingham, plus Europeans in Berlin where she will bid to regain the hurdles title she acquired in 2014 in Zurich, still her finest moment as an individual performer. “If you include the Commonwealths, only four are individual, the rest are all relay,” acknowledges Doyle, who will be named in the British team for the forthcoming world relay championships in The Bahamas later this week. “I’d like to try to balance it out more. But it is pretty cool, to have one from every major championships.”
With two Commonwealth silvers also in the bank, a gold in what will surely be her final Games appearance, in Australia next April, would be a cherished prize. The countdown to Gold Coast 2018 was accelerated yesterday when the baton relay was launched by The Queen in London. It will cover 230,000km over 388 days including a detour to Scotland from 22-28 August.
Commonwealth Games Scotland have affirmed their quest to win more medals on foreign soil than ever before, bettering the haul of 29 achieved in Melbourne 11 years ago. A number of track and field performers have followed Doyle’s lead, with Laura Muir, Andy Butchart and Callum Hawkins viewing Rio 2016 as a launchpad to soar higher and quicker into the stratosphere.
All three, plus many contemporaries, have bloomed amid nurseries close to home rather than treading a well-worn path to UK Athletics’ supposed Gardens of Eden in Loughborough and elsewhere. Doyle was once forced to relocate to Bath to get the specialist coaching she needed. The rising generation, she senses, will no longer feel compelled to decamp.
“You look at the Hawkins brothers, at Laura, Andy Butchart,” she observes. “Eilish McColgan has her mum as her coach. That’s good for British athletics as well. It shows we don’t all need to be in Loughborough to succeed.
“You need to be comfortable with where you are. I knew if I moved to Bath – I’m a bit of a home bird – I might be miserable. It might not work for me. I had to go down with my eyes open but thankfully I settled really quickly. The main thing is to find what works for you and athletics is so individual to everyone. So it’s good for Scottish athletics to be producing that and to show we’re doing good things up here.”