Scots make late bid for Olympic place at Amsterdam meeting

In an Olympic year it may be relegated to a warm-up event but in another way the fast-approaching Rio Games give the European Athletics Championships, which get under way in Amsterdam today, added significance.

Laura Whittle will be hoping a good showing in Amsterdam will get her on the plane to Rio

A few big-hitters may be absent but Great Britain can’t be accused of taking the event anything other than seriously after naming a bumper team of close to 100 athletes, with a number of potential seats on the plane to Brazil still up for grabs.

Scotland is already celebrating its biggest slice of the Team GB athletics squad since Munich in 1972 after a glorious dozen were confirmed Rio bound by the end of the recent trials in Birmingham. That trebled the total of four, all of whom were women, who made it to London 2012 and is double the official target.

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There is still hope that the Scottish contingent could rise even further, with 5000m runner Laura Whittle, hammer pair Chris Bennett and Mark Dry, and Jake Wightman in the 1500m all having opportunities to stake claims with strong performances in Amsterdam.

Whittle finished third in a superb Scottish 1-2-3 behind Steph Twell and Eilish McColgan in the British 5000m and that trio will go again in the Dutch capital. Wightman is in the same boat as Whittle after finishing third in the 15000m won by fellow Scot Chris O’Hare and hoping to do enough to convince the selectors he deserves a pick.

The marathon is reduced to a half-marathon in an Olympic year but the Rio-qualified Scots trio of Callum Hawkins, Derek Hawkins and Tsegai Tewelde will use it to continue their preparations.

Reigning European 400m champion Eilidh Doyle is in the Netherlands but will not defend her title, opting to go in just the 4x400m relay. Lennie Waite is the other Rio-bound Scot competing this week in the 3000m steeplechase.

Scottish Athletics director of coaching Rodger Harkins said: “I think the slight surprise was the size of the team for the Europeans selected by British Athletics and consequently the Scottish contingent with that.

“Originally I believe British Athletics were looking at a smaller team but I was delighted to then see that become a very large unit as they look to give as many athletes as possible the chance to make Rio, or others the opportunity to get the right preparation.”

It is crunch time for other high-profile British athletes, including Jo Pavey, the 42-year-old mother of two, who is chasing the 10,000 metres qualifying time of 32 minutes 15 seconds as she defends her continental title.

Two-time world 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu, 32, who has been troubled by a virus, is out to show she deserves a 400m spot in Rio and try to 
add to an Olympic medal haul that includes Beijing gold and London silver.

In the men’s 200m the second and fourth-fastest Britons ever, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and Zharnel Hughes, compete for the final Rio berth.

Britain returned with its best ever medal haul from the last Europeans in Zurich two years ago, topping the standings with 12 golds and 23 medals in total. Despite the absence of the likes of Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill, such a strong and large team in Amsterdam will be expected to get close to, or exceed, that tally, especially with Russia absent because of the ban for state-sponsored doping imposed by world athletics’ governing body the IAAF.

However, Yuliya Stepanova, a former drug cheat whose crucial evidence blew the lid on the country’s systematic use of banned drugs, will race under the European Athletics flag in the 800m in Amsterdam under the IAAF’s “exceptional eligibility” guidelines.