London 2012 Olympics: Eilish McColgan says her aim is Rio

Learning curve:  Eilish McColgan goes over the water jump, main picture; after the heat, above. Photographs: Ian Rutherford
Learning curve: Eilish McColgan goes over the water jump, main picture; after the heat, above. Photographs: Ian Rutherford
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LONDON was always going to be about experience for Eilish McColgan, her mother Liz said when she qualified by winning the 3,000-metres steeplechase at the UK Athletics trials. Rio in four years’ time was her real target.

Given the strength in depth in the event, that forecast always had the ring of truth about it. McColgan has come on rapidly since recovering from a broken foot last year, but at 21 she is still very much a novice at world level.

That was demonstrated yesterday when, running in the heats of the steeplechase, the Dundonian came ninth in 9mins 54.36 – some 18 seconds slower than her personal best. With room in the final for only the top four from each of the three heats and the three fastest losers, that was unsurprisingly nowhere close.

McColgan’s British team-mate Barbara Parker came sixth in her heat and also failed to qualify for tomorrow night’s final.

“The experience was amazing – I’ve never run in front of an 80,000 crowd – but I’m very disappointed with my time,” said McColgan. “As for position, that’s about where I would have expected to be, but it was just a lot slower than I thought. I thought I was operating at a much faster rate, so I am really disappointed, as I’m in great shape and I’ve not really proved that today.

“Mum told me to really enjoy this experience, because I’m never going to get this opportunity again in a home [Olympic] Games. I’m quite fortunate that there is Glasgow 2014 and here in 2017 [the IAAF World Championships] to look forward to – I really believe the next six years is the best time for athletes and with me being 21, that’s what I want to go on and achieve.”

Last week, while still training in Portugal, McColgan was hit by a car while out on one of her training runs. It must have been an unsettling experience at a crucial time in her preparations, but she insisted it had nothing at all to do with yesterday’s under-performance.

“It was a bit of a shock at the time, but I’ve had no problems afterwards and I managed to run home after – so that’s not a problem. It definitely had no effect on me there. I don’t know if there’s any excuse or any reason. I was a bit nervous, but you prepare the exact same way for the race as I would if I was back home running in Scotland.

“Obviously it’s such a big occasion and there was a huge crowd, but I was so focused on running well and knowing I was in good shape. 
That’s what’s disappointed me really.

“Training had gone well and I knew I was in the best shape of my life. Everybody has their ups and downs and unfortunately that was one of my downs.”

Having said that, McColgan was still able to reflect positively on the substantial progress she has made in recent years. “When it was announced it was going to be London I had no expectation about getting here. I hadn’t even thought about it.

“Last year I got closer and closer to the time, and it was becoming more and more of a reality, then I broke my foot. People told me not to worry because I’d got the Olympics, but I thought there was no chance of me doing it because of my foot.

“The recovery I made to be here – I still can’t quite believe it. I’m grateful I am here, I am fit and I can walk home rather than being wheelchaired out. It’s been amazing, something I could never have dreamt of.”