EILISH McColgan lined up on the starting blocks with some schoolchildren yesterday as she helped unveil the Commonwealth Games athletics venue, and said that she hoped she could prove an inspiration to them and all the other youngsters who will head along to Hampden this summer.
But the Dundee Hawkhill Harrier steeplechaser has never had to look too far for her own inspiration as she prepares for what she predicts will be a memorable home Games.
As Liz Lynch, her mother captured the nation’s imagination the last time Scotland hosted the Commonwealth jamboree, winning gold in the 10,000m in Edinburgh in 1986, and McColgan knows how privileged she is to be able to take part in another home event.
“Mum said Edinburgh was the one standout moment for her,” says the 23-year-old. “Throughout her career she’d been world champion in Tokyo yet the Commonwealth Games is, not more important to her, but it stands out more because she said everyone was shouting her name. The crowd was so loud it was like nothing she’d ever been to. So when it was announced Glasgow had won the bid, straight away that was something I wanted to do.
“I wanted to make sure I made that team so it was a relief to know I had made it and to know I’d be a part of it.”
Now well aware how much the Commonwealth medal meant to her mum, when she was growing up it was never such a big deal. “Mum and dad didn’t try to hide me from athletics but I think they wanted me to make my own decisions. They didn’t want me to do it just because they both ran. They wanted me to do it because I wanted to do it. I’m glad they did do that because that’s what’s made me want to stay in the sport. I’ve not been forced into it and running has always been something I enjoy doing.”
Because of that the family had never sat around the TV basking in grainy footage of past glories. “I’d never watched my mum run at all until a journalist sat me down one day and made me watch it. I have watched them now and I’ve seen the clips of my mum in Edinburgh. Again, I think it’s a really special moment. My gran and grandad – my grandad isn’t here anymore – run down to the track and my mum spots them in the crowd and runs over to them.
“It’s moments like that, it’s such a special moment for our family. You can see how important it was for my mum to have them there and for the crowd. I’m really looking forward to having that sort of experience.
“It’s exciting for me to be able to race in Scotland. My dad and my three little brothers and sister never really get the chance to come and watch me compete. I competed in the world champs in Russia and it was the best I had ever ran. I made the final and came tenth in a PB and I should have been so happy about it, but there was no-one there to see me run or to be a part of it with me.
“Afterwards my phone was crazy but it’s not the same as them actually being in the stadium and watching me, so I’m really looking forward to having mum and dad there. Mum is coming back from Qatar because she’s based over there now and, hopefully, my sister and little brothers get tickets. For them all to be there will be really special.”
Replicating her mother’s golden feat will not be easy, though. Not after a virus that has interrupted McColgan’s preparations since she returned from winter training in Kenya, and not with a stress fracture at the top of her shin that has limited the number of session she can commit to fine-tuning her hurdling. Those issues can both be overcome. The tricky part will be getting past the Kenyans to make it onto the podium.
With only three from each country able to take part, McColgan is ranked around fourth in the field, but she still has a lot of quality to overhaul. “I have to be realistic in what I can achieve. The Commonwealth Games is a lower level than the Olympic Games or World Championships but, unfortunately, I have all the Kenyans who dominate the steeplechase. So, realistically, I’d have to be beating a double-Olympic champion or a world champion. It’s difficult. So if I can get in among the minor medals, I’ll be more than happy. I ran 9:35 last year and if I can run close to that, if not quicker, I’ll be happy. I just want to be amongst it and anything can happen on the day. So I have to concentrate on myself.”
The European Championships come a couple of weeks after the Commonwealth Games and, given the absence of Kenyans from that field and the heightened medal chances as a consequence, McColgan might have been forgiven for focusing on that event instead. But, she is young enough to know that other European Championships will come and go, but the chance to tap into the patriotic fervour stirred up by a home Commonwealth Games is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“If the Commonwealth Games had not been in Glasgow, I’d have been focusing more on medalling at the Europeans [in Zurich]. But this is too special for me, to have the opportunity to race here.
“As soon as they won the bid, I knew straight away I wanted to be at the Games and it’s been in my head the whole way through. It’s just something you plan out, that you want to be a part of.
“I was part of the Commonwealth Youth Games in India. That was my first-ever international competition and I absolutely loved it, being part of Team Scotland. It was the first time I’d raced abroad, It was a completely different experience than anything I’d had before.
“The fact it was a youth team and now this is the senior team, the fact I’ve made that jump and it’s not just me – there’s Chris O’Hare, Lynsey Sharp, Myra Perkins – we’ve all made that jump. If someone had said that to us back in 2008, that we’d all be in the team for Glasgow, we’d never have believed it. So it’s quite a surreal moment.”
But one they are unlikely to forget.