Scots athletics coach seeks Birmingham medal haul

Rodger Harkins: 'Big weekend'.
Rodger Harkins: 'Big weekend'.
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BIRMINGHAM is the place to be for Scotland’s top senior athletes as the Sainsbury’s British Championships – which double as the trials for the World Championships in Beijing – get under way.

The Alexander Stadium has been a happy hunting ground over the past couple of years, with fine medal hauls achieved by the Scots collectively.

And, with a few promising under-20 athletes among the overall entry this time around, hopes will be high of adding to the 26 medals won at this event over the past two years.

Scottish Athletics director of coaching, Rodger Harkins, has been thrilled to see ten young Scots picked by GB this week for the World Youths in Colombia and the European Under-23s in Estonia and now wants senior athletes to meet the governing body’s mantra to “Perform When It Counts”, which is the title of their 2015-19 strategy.

“It is another big weekend for our athletes and I think it is an exciting one, too,” said Harkins. “We spoke about athletes stepping up to perform at their best recently in Bedford for the England Athletics U20 and U23 championships and they did that emphatically.

“That was certainly reflected in the medals won by Scots that weekend – there were 24, with nine of those gold – and in selections now being announced by British Athletics for the Euro age-group events.

“The British Champs take place over three days and in many cases people will have heats and a final. For the younger ones, and we have U20 athletes on start-lists as well as seniors, it can be a really good learning curve.

“For our very best athletes, of course, this is the stepping stone to the World Champs in Beijing in August. Standards have to be achieved for that but in terms of the trials it is first and foremost about trying to get on the podium – because the qualifying period for the Worlds remains open after this weekend.”

Six Scots were named British champions in 2013 as Eilish McColgan, Steph Twell, Chris O’Hare, Andy Frost, Emma Nuttall and Andrew Lemoncello took gold. Last year, as the Glasgow Commonwealth Games loomed, there was Birmingham gold success for Eilidh Child, Lynsey Sharp, Allan Smith and McColgan.

McColgan is injured this year, missing the chance for a fourth successive British title, but her Team Scotland Hampden team-mate, Lennie Waite, is top of the current 3000m steeplechase British rankings and performed well to finish second at the European Team Championships, while Laura Muir looks favourite for the 1500m.

Add the likes of Jax Thoirs, Kirsty Law, Mark Dry, Sarah Warnock, Andrew Butchart, Guy Learmonth, Chris Bennett, Laura Whittle, Henrietta Paxton, Jake Wightman, David Smith, Angus McInroy, Callum Hawkins and Nick Percy and it is clear Scotland has talent.

It should be noted, however, that the Euro selections at U23 level in particular will affect the championships, with Kirsten McAslan, Rachel Hunter, Rhona Auckland, Neil Gourley, Cameron Boyek and Zoey Clark understandably making Tallinn the week after very much their priority. It is expected all will miss the British Championships to prepare for Estonia.

“There are never any guarantees of success in athletics but we do have a number of people who are ranked highly in Britain at the moment and who have been showing good form,” added Harkins.

“So hopefully they can deliver over the weekend. For those who have maybe not quite been at their best then sometimes there’s nothing quite like the edge of a British Championship competition to bring out the best in you. I want to wish all the Scottish athletes and coaches competing in Birmingham all the very best of luck.”

The Euro U23s take place in Estonia from 9-12 July, with the likes of Auckland and McAslan very much medal hopes in the 10,000m and 400m respectively. As well as the six Scots named for that event, Josh Kerr and Jack Lawrie will also be with GB for the Euro U20s in Sweden later this month – with a couple more names likely to be revealed when British Athletics complete their selection announcements.

And teenagers Cameron Tindle, Ben Greenwood, George Evans and Warrington-based Carys McAulay will be part of a 27-strong British squad at the World Youths in Cali, Colombia, from 15-19 July.

“We’re delighted with the selection of Scots in GB age-group squads at the moment,” said Harkins. “For the Euro U23s we are looking at about 17 per cent representation in a GB squad which is almost double what you might expect in population terms. With the Euro U20s and the World Youths, we are seeing members of our National Academy step up and earn recognition and that’s very encouraging because that’s why we brought in the Academy programme which offers advice and support to athletes, coaches and their parents.”