Eilidh Child’s peaking career sparks Scots hopes

Eilidh Child with her gold and silver European indoor medals. Picture: Neil Hanna
Eilidh Child with her gold and silver European indoor medals. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THEY don’t miss a trick, these Games organisers. Just as they counted down towards the Olympics with a succession of landmarks and milestones, so have they set the clock ticking on their Commonwealth equivalent, which will open in Glasgow exactly 500 days from now.

To mark the occasion, a film will go live on the Glasgow 2014 website, tracking a day in the life of the city. Tomorrow, which also happens to be Commonwealth Day, children all over the country will be encouraged to wear trainers to school. In addition, the route of the Queen’s Baton Relay, a pre-Games tradition that finishes at the opening ceremony, will be announced.

For those who are expected to compete at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, especially those from the host nation, it is enough to send a shiver down the spine. If you are one of the country’s biggest medal hopes, such as Eilidh Child, the 400m hurdler who won a silver in Delhi three years ago, you might be excused a degree of trepidation.

By running into the peak of her career at the same time as Scotland is preparing to host the Commonwealth Games, the 26-year-old Kinross athlete finds herself with a unique opportunity. After winning gold and silver at last weekend’s European Indoor Championships, she is coming to the fore just as her country is about to do the same.

The problem is that such a happy alignment of the stars brings with it a burden of expectation, a need, almost a duty, to take advantage. At a time when Scotland is not exactly blessed with an embarrassment of riches in track and field, many are tipping Child to become a poster girl for Glasgow 2014, as Jessica Ennis was for London 2012.

Child insists that the prospect does not faze her. Not yet anyway.

“It doesn’t, but ask me in 500 days’ time and I might say something different,” she says. “I feel very flattered by it. I always try to look at the positive side of pressure and think, well, if there is pressure and expectation on me, I must be doing something right. It’s just about controlling it and not letting it get to you, not letting it make you underperform. It’s about embracing it and saying ‘right, I’m going to use that support to get an advantage over everyone else’.”

If Child needs any advice, she could do worse than consult Ennis, who won gold last summer, despite having the weight of the world on her shoulders. The English heptathlete sent a congratulatory tweet to Child after her performance in Gothenburg last week. They shared an apartment at the Olympics.

“If I got to that point where I was feeling under pressure and I felt like it was going to affect my performance, she would be somebody that I would go and speak to,” says Child. “I could go and ask: ‘How did you deal with that, what did you do to try to switch off?’ I’m sure she would be very happy to give me advice. And it would be good advice. She obviously coped very well.”

Despite what people keep telling Child, a gold in Glasgow is not the inevitable consequence of silver in Delhi. England’s Perri Shakes-Drayton stands in her way, together with a strong Jamaican challenge, and the possibility that a young, unknown quantity could yet emerge.

But, at this early stage, Child is entitled to fancy her chances. At the Europeans, she led the 4x400m relay team to gold, just five hours after winning silver in the individual 400m. She is the first Scot in track and field history to win two medals for Great Britain in the same day.

Her performance showed that she now has flat speed to complement her endurance, a product perhaps of her decision to become a full-time athlete ahead of the Olympics. It also instilled in her the belief that she belongs on the big stage. Having reached only the semi-finals in London, she will be disappointed not to go one better at this year’s World Championships in Moscow. No longer does she regard appearing in major finals as a bonus.

“In every [previous] major championship I’ve gone to at senior level, I’ve not been expected to do anything, except maybe Delhi.

“So it was nice to go into a competition as someone who should get a medal, and be able to deliver, with a personal best as well. It’s great to know that I am in shape and running well and that I can deliver when I have pressure on me. It’s really boosted my confidence.” So, too, has the reaction to her success. Despite one journalist’s recent claim – which provoked a storm of protest – that the average Scot would not be able to name even two of the country’s female athletes, Child says that her Twitter following has rocketed on the back of last week’s triumph, as has her profile.

She was even on the pitch at Tynecastle last Tuesday night, showing off her medals at the Hearts-St Johnstone match. “I’ve been going to Tynecastle since I was little girl so to go out on the pitch and get that experience was amazing. I got nice support, apart from when they announced that I was from Perth but that I didn’t support St Johnstone. That didn’t go down so well. It’s my dad’s fault. The whole family are Hearts season-ticket holders.”

Child, who returns to her training base in Bath later this week, doubts her commitments will allow her to attend Sunday’s Scottish Communities League Cup final between Hearts and St Mirren. She also had to watch last season’s 5-1 Scottish Cup final win over Hibs on her laptop. Still, she has seen Hearts play at Hampden often enough to regard as extraordinary her prospective appearance there in the Commonwealth 400m hurdles final.

The very fact that the National Stadium will be closed to football for a year, while it undergoes a refit for the Commonwealth Games, tells her that something strange is about to happen to the country’s sporting landscape. “It’s almost like football’s having to take a back seat for a while. That’s really encouraging. Hopefully, when it comes to the Commonwealth Games, it will be other sports which dominate the newspapers.

“I associate Hampden with football so to be out on the pitch, running there, will be weird. I’ve only been there to watch Hearts. The last time would have been when they won the Scottish Cup in 2006, and obviously the semi-final before that, the 4-0 game against Hibs. I always like to mention that.

“I’ve had a bit of luck at Hampden. Hopefully, it will carry through to Glasgow 2014.”