Eilidh Child on Scots athletes busy fortnight

Eilidh Child is determined to do well at both the Commonwealth Games and European Championships. Picture: Neil Hanna
Eilidh Child is determined to do well at both the Commonwealth Games and European Championships. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE turnaround is manageable. The Commonwealth Games end on 3 August and the European Athletics Championships begin on the 12th.

It does not take ten days to get from Glasgow to Zurich, so it is feasible to ask an athlete to recover from one event and be ready to run again a week and a half later. They do it all the time in the Diamond League.

There is another layer of considerations at play with this particular turnaround, however. Scottish athletes who have invested everything, for a year or more, in their appearance before a packed Hampden Park might, in the glow of triumph or the fog of failure, be so drained of nervous energy as to feel unable to do themselves justice against more motivated Russians, Germans and Swedes in the immediate aftermath.

The 2014 European Championships are a real head-scratcher for Stephen Maguire, director of coaching at Scottish Athletics, just as the Commonwealth Games are a marvellous motivational tool that makes part of his job for the next nine months very easy.

Let’s use Eilidh Child as a case study. Child will, all being well, be competing in the 4x400 metres final on the night of 2 August, after which the simmering party atmosphere in the athletes’ village will reach boiling point as there are only a handful of events left on the final day before the closing ceremony.

Not everybody can switch off, though. Child receives UK Sport funding as an elite athlete who is expected to perform well at World Championships – she was fifth this year in Moscow in the 400m hurdles – and European Championships, as well as Olympic Games. Come 3 August, she might be in the midst of being celebrated as a national icon, pulled this way and that to show off her medal (or medals) and to talk about what was a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Win or lose, reality will then bite. The heats for the Euro 400m hurdles loom on 13 August, and, if Child does not do herself justice in Zurich, it could have an impact on what she can achieve in Beijing in 2015, not to mention Rio in 2016. As far as Maguire is concerned, therefore, the party line in terms of Glasgow 2014 is that there is no time to party.

“This is a conversation we are having with UK Athletics and they are great because they realise it’s a home Games and the only time in these athletes’ careers that they are going to get to compete at Hampden Park with 48-50,000 Scottish fans and they are very aware of it,” said the Northern Irishman.

“They are also very aware, as I am, that it will come down to how we manage them because the likes of Eilidh are well used to going to major competitions in Europe and then bouncing back again. What you wouldn’t want is some of the top people hanging in the village to do a bit of partying after it when they have a European Championships a couple of weeks later. That’s not going to happen.”

That rather unfortunate reality only emphasises the imperative for the public to realise that the Commonwealth Games may be the closest Scotland will ever get to an Olympics, but it is not an Olympics. Very few athletes had to flee the village in London last summer in a hurry to carry on with urgent competitive business, because all their training had been geared towards the event they had just undertaken.

It is not ideal, admitted Maguire, but he urged fans who will cheer Child & Co next summer to remember that these are essentially self-employed people with only a decade, if they are lucky, to make a decent living out of their athleticism.

“Yes, there is a feelgood thing with the emotion attached to [competing at a home Games] but for Eilidh Child, Lynsey Sharp, Eilish McColgan, it’s their business and, if they can do very well at Commonwealths and repeat it at Europeans, for their ‘athlete plc’ it’s another boost because it gets them to another level. I don’t have many concerns about it,” he said with a smile, “because we have Commonwealths first”.

That sounded like a tacit acknowledgment that, while anyone good enough to wear a British vest in Zurich will be instructed to ride the crescendo of peak fitness into the middle of August, what they do in a Scottish vest at Hampden will be of paramount importance.

“Any medal at the Commonwealth Games will be really hard earned,” Maguire added. “For people like Eilish at the top end, we have to be honest and ask can they hold that ten days to two weeks later going into a Europeans? It’s a mental thing as well. The only stipulations I have with those athletes is that they are into the village two days beforehand [for the Commonwealth Games]. Once they are done and dusted, if their coach says to me they want to go out and start preparing for Europeans again, that’s fine.”

Child herself maintained a steely professionalism when asked for her view. She is genuinely determined to fulfil her potential in both. “It’s quite nice to have two big events just to keep you focused that little bit longer because, after the World Championships [in August], I think I finished my season a bit early. I switched off completely, whereas, if you know you’ve got something else coming up, you don’t lose focus.”

However, when pressed on whether the proximity of Zurich meant she would not allow herself to enjoy any sort of release at the end of the great Glasgow gala, she relented slightly. Laughing, she said: “Well, it depends how well I do! I don’t know, I’ll have to wait and see what happens.”