Guy Learmonth once had grand illusions of being a talismanic captain of his country when an important occasion was about to take place on Scottish soil. This weekend, the 26-year-old finally gets his wish. Growing up in the Borders, this was not quite as he imagined when he was launching a ball around in the company of childhood chum Stuart Hogg.
“I never thought I was going to be a runner,” he says. “It was all rugby, rugby, rugby. I always wanted to set foot on the pitch at Murrayfield.”
Instead, the European Indoor Championships have become his Calcutta Cup and 800 metres gold his Grand Slam goal. Learmonth is honoured at having been voted as Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s captain by his peers. He also has the opportunity to emulate a past master or perhaps write his own history.
Tom McKean claimed this title when this showpiece came to Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall in 1990. Now a policeman, the Scottish record he established that day has long fascinated his would-be successor.
“I know I can beat that record,” he declares. “Tom has been a big idol for me. Coming into the sport, I just looked at who the big names were.
“I’ve got the junior record. I’ve got the Under-23 record. That’s just one left. He’s the one who is up there. He’s a world and European champion. He’s an absolute legend. I’ve never met him although I’ve met Tommy Boyle, his coach. But he last did it – in Glasgow – two years before I was born. I think we’ve only had two 800m medallists since, so if it all comes together, it would feel like fate.”
He will have to overcome the discomforting distraction of a broken finger and a painful rib, both sustained as a consequence of falling to the track during the recent Grand Prix in Birmingham. As in his rugby days, he has bandaged himself up and carried onward. “The strapping really won’t do anything. It’ s just a mental thing. And if I break my hand in the process of winning, I won’t care.”
His rallying speech last night was pre-destined to draw inspiration from adversity. Off the cuff. “Probably like one of my races,” he grins. “Either world-class or diabolical.” With his opening heat this evening, he will channel his inner Hastings. “Captaining Scotland at rugby didn’t come off but I’m the captain of my country here.”