Sir Andy Murray knows well the frustration of being at the top of his game but finding that not one, but three, just have a bit more.
He may be top dog now but the tennis legend knows what it’s like to be a fourth wheel to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It may be a stretch of a comparison but young Scottish 1,500m runner Neil Gourley got a microcosmic snapshot of what Murray endured for so long on Sunday when he ran another brilliant race but found himself behind the sensational Scottish 1-2-3 of Chris O’Hare, Josh Kerr and Jake Wightman in an electrifying British Championship and world trial in Birmingham.
O’Hare and Kerr now form part of a minimum 11-strong Scottish representation in the Great Britain team for next month’s world championships at the Olympic Stadium in London. That is well beyond the previous bests of seven in 2013 and 2015 and, it is hoped, a couple more might be added, building on the incredible 15 that made the Rio Olympics squad last year.
Gourley won’t be one of them but he reflected with pride on being part of a race that will go down in Scottish athletics folklore.
“To be in the mix is fantastic,” said the Giffnock North AAC runner, who is currently studying at Virginia Tech and prospering on the American college circuit. “Three Scottish boys one, two three. I couldn’t live with them but it’s absolutely fantastic. If you’re going to get beaten by anyone it’s these guys. I’ve known them for a while and they all work so hard.”
Gourley, who swapped rugby for running in his teens, was the Glaswegian following three Edinburgh AC boys home at the Alexander Stadium but, at 22, was happy to bank the experience and aim to maintain his progress.
“It was certainly a step in the right direction,” he said. “I feel I’ve been a little bit unlucky in some races this season, but I finally got a free run and didn’t fall over anyone which was good, so I’m pleased with it.
“Outside of Kenya it’s the toughest 1,500m team to make for sure. I’d even half thought about going for the 800, because at the moment in the 1,500 I’m not going to get picked. That’s just the strength of Scottish middle distance running right now, it’s incredible.”
Gourley will now go to the Under-23 European Championships in Poland in a couple of weeks and look to better the bronze he achieved as a 20-year-old in Estonia two years ago.
Amidst a magnificent haul of 18 British Championship medals netted by Scots athletes over the weekend in Birmingham, seven sealed their places for the world championships.
Eilidh Doyle, pictured left, in the 400m hurdles, Zoey Clark in the 400m, O’Hare and Steph Twell in the 5,000m all took titles and there were silver medals and automatic qualifications slots for Kerr and Eilish McColgan, who was outsprinted by Twell in another great race for the Scots.
They joined Andrew Butchart, the 5,000m champion from Saturday, in adding to the cohort of four Scots automatically selected – Laura Muir in the 1,500m and 5,000m, Beth Potter in the 10,000m and the marathon duo of Callum Hawkins and Robbie Simpson.
Wightman, who won the Oslo Diamond League last month, will hope that the selectors give him the nod despite Kerr ghosting past him on the line to knock him out of automatic qualification.
Lynsey Sharp finds herself in the same boat after being pipped on the line by Adelle Tracey to drop to third in a women’s 800m final won by Shelayna Oskan-Clarke.
Other chances, though very much long shots, include Guy Learmonth, who came second in the men’s 800m but faces a big ask to make the qualifying mark in time.
Nick Percy won the discus, while hammer throwers Mark Dry and Chris Bennett finished third and fourth. The field trio’s only slim chance of making London is to get themselves into the world top 32 and earn an IAAF invite.
Twell, who ran 15.35.50 to overhaul fellow Scot McColgan in the women’s 5,000m after a great surge over the last 200m, said: “I was in control, I was running my race and it paid off. I’ve always known I have a strong finish, so it’s just about using it more and more and showing it.”
Doyle was unhappy with aspects of her performance but is confident things will start to come together soon. “The race wasn’t the best; it was messy,” said the European champion. “I’ve got three or four more races before the worlds, most of which will be Diamond Leagues, so hopefully they can bring quick times and better races.”