Dina Asher-Smith and Beth Dobbin praised calm in face of Tokyo 2020 postponement

Scottish Athletics head coach Stephen Maguire has urged athletes to remain calm and seek out the positives from a season decimated and Olympic year postponed due to the terrible Covid-19 pandemic.
Scottish athletics head coach Stephen Maguire. Picture: CharlyTriballeau/AFP/GettyScottish athletics head coach Stephen Maguire. Picture: CharlyTriballeau/AFP/Getty
Scottish athletics head coach Stephen Maguire. Picture: CharlyTriballeau/AFP/Getty

Maguire, like everyone, accepts that sport is an irrelevance in the face of such a monumental crisis but has urged athletes from the elite to junior club level to take a step back, refocus and take this as a chance to re-evaluate.

“Given what’s going on right now it gives a chance for athletes to take a step back, be with their families and have a bit of normality,” said Maguire, who two years ago returned as a director of performance and coaching for the country’s national governing body.

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He had previously held the role leading into the successful home Commonwealth Games in Glasgow six years ago before moving on to become the Great Britain head of sprints, hurdles and relays under the enviable job title “Head of Power” which would make the modest and self-effacing Northern Irishman wince no doubt.

He continues in that role at British level but has relished being back working with Scottish Athletics and is taking a pragmatic approach to the current situation, which has seen the Olympic pinnacle of his sport, the Tokyo Games, postponed for a year.

“Olympic year is always crazy and stressful. Once they were postponed, it was sad but maybe a bit of a relief that the pressure of trying to train for it in very strange and uncertain circumstances had been lifted,” he said. “There would have been worries about compromising their physical and mental wellbeing, so it gives them a chance to step back from that strain.”

It is a cliche to cling to, although in such troubling times perhaps a less solid one, but with crisis comes opportunity. In the case of new mum Eilidh Doyle, Scotland’s most decorated athlete of all time, it presents a chance to appear at a third Olympics.

“While as upset about the current situation as we all are, having spoken to her, she is probably one of the few sportspeople in the world who is actually quite relieved she has more time to prepare,” said Maguire of the 33-year-old 400m hurdler.

“There’s lots of athletes and elite sportspeople who have injuries, carry niggles and have lots of things going on with them. As you get older and into the mature end of a career and you’re constantly trying to manage things, this gives an opportunity to work those things out, rehab and don’t push themselves too much. So yes, it does give opportunities.”

On the flipside, for others at their peak and straining at the leash for a shot at Olympic glory, it is an undeniable setback. After a fallow few years for Scottish sprinting, Beth Dobbin has been a shining light, smashing the 34-year-old national 200m record two years ago and becoming a fixture in a GB vest.

“Beth’s doing really well. She’s a great role model,” said Maguire of the 25-year-old daughter of former Celtic footballer Jim Dobbin.

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“She’s still finding her way on the elite, world stage. Figuring out how she can progress further and achieve her absolute best. In contrast to Eilidh, where this has come as an advantage, Beth is probably thinking ‘dammit’ because she was in really good shape.

“But she’s very positive, down to earth, understands and brings those attributes of patience and calmness. She’s not fazed. She’s fine.”

With his GB hat on, Maguire also has the pleasure of working closely with one of Britain’s sporting superstars of the time, Dina Asher-Smith, the nation’s fastest-ever woman and 200m world champion.

“Athletes like Dina are very resourceful about putting their mindset into a different place, refocusing,” he said. “There is an acceptance from Dina that it wasn’t meant to be this year. And not just her, a lot of the top athletes could see what was coming weeks before this lockdown, lots of garages converted into training spaces with equipment, borrowing weights and treadmills. They are adaptable.”

Lottery and government funding, ramped up in the build-up to London 2012, has been a gamechanger for British athletics and Maguire is hopeful things will continue, while accepting the current situation in fraught.

“As far as we know at the minute everything is stable but whether that lasts, given the amount of investment that may rightly be needed in the face of coronavirus we don’t know,” he said.

The Olympic postponement causes a ripple effect which sees next year’s planned world championships in Euegene, Oregon, pushed into a 2022 which already has a Birmingham Commonwealth Games and Munich European Championships. “There is a problem that athletics needs to sort out,” said Maguire. “There are big indoor championships too. It is a headache and I’ve been looking at it and thinking ‘sugar, how is that going to work?’. The fixture calendar now if you took a snapshot of it is horrific. But like the athletes, we’ve got to be patient, take a half step back and let the decision makers deal with it.”

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