CAREY EASTON was today set to be named in Scotland’s athletics team for the Commonwealth Games, with a tribute from one of Edinburgh’s top coaches ringing in her ears.
The 22-year-old Edinburgh Woollen Mill athlete smashed her personal best for 400m in the heats at the English Trials - then finished third to the great Maria Mutola in the final.
After her victory in last week’s Scottish Trials, her time of 52.91sec - the sixth-fastest by a Scot - it was enough to book her ticket back to Manchester for the Games in July.
With clubmate Hayley Ovens running a lifetime best to finish fourth in the 1500m - and surely sealing Games selection too - the double success made up for a disappointing weekend for Scots.
Susan Burnside, who ran a PB in her 100m heat, and sprint hurdler Lynne Fairweather missed out in their final chance to make the Scottish team’s qualifying mark.
So did top men Nick Smith (100m), Allan Scott (110m hurdles) and Tony Dobbing (javelin), although all three set new lifetime bests.
It could result in just 25 athletes being named in the Scottish team.
However, veteran coach George Sinclair, celebrating a clutch of medals by Edinburgh Woollen Mill at the Scottish Schools Championships at Grangemouth, reckons the future is bright - if the next generation follow Easton and Ovens’ lead.
Paying tribute to the tough-of-the-track duo, Sinclair said: "You will struggle to find any athletes who work as hard as they do.
"I’ve never felt Carey or Hayley were the most naturally gifted athletes, but they make up for it by working bloody hard. There’s an awful lot of athletes who you can’t say that about.
"The selectors will have the final say, but in terms of work-rate both of them deserve to be going to the Games."
Easton will now be vying with Glasgow’s Lee McConnell to follow in the footsteps of Linsey Macdonald, Mel Neef and Allison Curbishley as Scotland’s top one-lap runner.
Curbishley, a silver medallist in Kuala Lumpur four years ago, has since moved up to 800m but persistent injury problems could rule her out this time.
The same could apply to fellow-EWM member Lorna Jackson, who set the javelin-mark of 52m last year but could only manage 41.95 at the weekend and finished with a throw in the 30s.
Fairweather’s best years, however, lie ahead of her and she was today philosophical after failing to find the one-hundredth of a second which would have earned her Commonwealth Games selection.
The Bonnyrigg hurdler, out for four years with injury and illness, clocked 13.90sec and failed to qualify for the final.
"It’s frustrating to get so close to the Commonwealth Games and I don’t know how strict the selectors are going to be for the sake of one-hundredth of a second.
"That was my last chance and if I don’t make it I’ll have to accept it.
"Not many people do as well as I’ve done in their first season back, so I have to be pleased.
"I’m disappointed because I would normally hope to beat a couple of the girls, but I didn’t have a very good start," she added.
Smith, the former New Year Sprint winner, had mixed emotions about his 100m performance.
He clocked 10.49sec in the heats - the Games qualifying time is 10.45sec - but finished last in a final won by Dwain Chambers, who was fourth at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
"That was the first time I had gone up against him in an individual race," said the Fife teenager, who won the Scottish title last weekend.
"It was just unfortunate to be so close to the time again. It was good experience, but it was also good to prove that the 10.50sec I ran last week wasn’t a one-off.
"To be honest, it didn’t feel as fast as that but the track in Manchester is made of the fastest surface in the world.
"It would be great to go back and run there again, and I’ll just have to wait and see if I’m in the relay team."
Alasdair Donaldson failed to make the start of the 800m final after coming through his heat with a time nearly two seconds outside his Games target.
However, Gillian Palmer sealed her 10,000m place by finishing top Scot, in fifth place, behind Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan.
Glen Stewart, with a 5000m place already secured, kept his options open for Manchester, by qualifying for the 10,000m.