Sir Mo Farah’s victory in last weekend’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year was the ceremonial full stop to the great man’s glorious track career, leaving behind the biggest metaphorical running spikes to fill in British athletics history.
Nobody plundered more major medals for the country than Farah but even the biggest sporting vacuums are there to be filled. Step forward Scotland’s Andrew Butchart.
The 26-year-old rising 5,000m star from Dunblane is hoping that April’s Commonwealth Games in Australia’s Gold Coast will be the moment he emerges from Farah’s shadow and proves he is the man to carry British distance track running hopes on to Tokyo in 2020.
His breakthrough sixth-place finish at the Rio Olympics was followed by an eighth at the summer’s world championships in London and, while nobody is expecting him to be the “new Mo”, hopes are high that he can build on a string of impressive recent performances.
For some it may be a daunting prospect but, to Butchart, Farah is just his daft mate who he enjoyed joking and bantering with on training camps.
“I’ve never really been star struck with anybody ever,” said the Scot. “In 2016 I flew myself out to America, ended up into the British camp and next thing I am doing runs with Mo.
“Everyone is so welcoming, though, you just hit it off really quickly and then that is it.
“The appetite I get is because I am training and running with Mo and he is winning and I am not that far behind him in runs and stuff like that. You get to the race and I am only three or four seconds of the medal. So that keeps you motivated.
“You think ‘come on, it’s only three or four seconds’. You just need to keep motivated to get faster, that one per cent gain.”
Butchart will be staying in touch with Farah as the six-time world and four-time Olympic champion embarks on his marathon career. “We still talk all the time. We text and see each other out and about. If I needed anything I am sure I could contact him, although we won’t do any training together as our disciplines are so different,” said Butchart. “But we will text each other and he will definitely message me to say good luck. And wee things like that could maybe make the difference. It could be that tiny little one per cent.”
If Butchart was to win a Commonwealth Games medal he could always text and point out he had something Farah didn’t?
“No, because he would probably just text back to say he has a lot that I haven’t got,” said the Scot with a laugh.
Butchart has moved to San Diego with 800m runner girlfriend Lynsey Sharp and will continue winter training in the States before returning to run in the Müller Indoor Grand Prix Glasgow ahead of the world indoor championships in Birmingham.
Gold Coast will soon follow and Butchart hopes to make amends for the disappointment of failing to make the Scotland team for Glasgow 2014 when 1,500m was his main event.
“I was crap,” is his stark assessment of that period. “I didn’t really watch much of it, because I thought I could maybe have gone,” he continued. “I just didn’t really want to watch it, just in my head. But 2014 was the year I did my first 5,000m on the track and that is when I started to like the 5k. That is how quick it can happen.
“I was definitely jealous. Guys like Callum Hawkins [the marathon star who ran the 10,000m at Hampden] were there, guys who you were racing against in the cross country and winning against, they were making the team and I wasn’t.”
That Glasgow disappointment spurred Butchart on to what has been inexorable progression ever since, from breaking long-standing Scottish track records (Nat Muir’s 36-year-old 5,000m one and John Robson’s 3,000m mark which had stood since 1984) to the point in early 2016 when he left his job as a fitness coach at Gleneagles Hotel to become a full-time athlete.
Then came that sixth in Rio and it has been all systems go since.
Butchart won his first major medal at the EuroCross event in Slovakia earlier this month and has won 10k road events, like the big London 10,000 race, which Farah won five years running, in 2016.
The 5,000m on the track is the major focus, though, and Butchart expects that to continue for a while yet.
“The natural progression of any distance athlete is to stay as short as you can for as long as you can,” he said. “All the best marathon athletes of all time have all come from the track. That is the routine, although I don’t know if I’ll do it, but the 10k is the next stage. I will be at the 5k for as long as I can. If you can’t medal at the 5k you can’t in the 10k.”