McColgan admitted she was ready to walk away from the sport after a foot injury last year looked to have derailed her dream of a second Olympics.
But the switch from 3,000m steeplechase to 5,000m – a decision of medical necessity rather than choice – renewed her drive and now she’s finally an Olympic finalist after finishing ninth in her heat four years ago in London.
McColgan got her tactics spot on in yesterday’s heat, from which only five qualified. She stayed and tracked the leading group and then kicked down the home straight, her superior finishing speed securing fifth place in 15:18.20.
However, she admitted that if it looked good, it didn’t always feel it. “Mentally, I’m still really adjusting to running 5,000m. It’s so different to the steeplechase,” she said.
“I know that if I’ve got a sniff with 400m to go, then I’ve got that speed. I’m capable. I know I’ve got the times to be up there, but it’s a mental game sometimes. The main aim was to make a final, but you never know how realistic that is. Training has been great, so I knew I was in shape, but championship racing is so different to anything I’ve done in the past. It was a real bumpy race and I had to stay calm and be aware of everything around me.”
Meanwhile, fellow Scot Laura Whittle failed to progress, but is hoping her running life will begin at 30 after making her Olympic debut in Rio.
The 31-year old was a promising junior, winning gold over 5,000m at the European Uunder-23 Championships nine years ago.
But she didn’t find the transition from junior to senior rankings easy and started to lose her passion for training and competing, fading from the scene. However, watching the London 2012 Olympics reignited the spark and, with Jo Pavey making her fifth Olympics aged 42, there’s plenty of time left for Whittle to come good on that early promise.
“Four years ago I was watching London 2012 and I was nowhere near this level,” said Whittle. “I remember watching my friend Lisa Dobriskey run at the Olympic Stadium and saying to [husband] Rob, ‘I want to go to Rio’.
“Now I can call myself an Olympian for the rest of my life and that’s a really special feeling. When I think how far I’ve come in four years, I can’t be disappointed not to make the final. I’ve had a great season. I’ve finished fifth at the European Championships, run a personal best and made the Olympic team, I can’t have any complaints about that.
“If I can keep moving forward like I’ve done in the last four years, then, maybe, I can make the final in Tokyo.”
Scottish women’s distance running is in rude health, providing all three British 5,000m athletes in Rio, but, if Whittle was upbeat about her performance, British No 1 Steph Twell was distraught. The Scottish record-holder come home eighth behind McColgan and failed to progress, meaning more tears at the Olympics, eight years after a similar story in the 1,500m in Beijing.
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