European Athletics Championships 2014: Eilidh Child comes of age with hurdles gold
Scot clings on to claim European title as she beats a bout of nerves and high-class field
Sunday 17 August 2014
A small driveway in Scotland's Kinross paved the way for gold, two simple cones and a stick set up for Eilidh Child to take her first tentative hurdling steps at the age of 10.
Back then, older sister Iona was the more adept of the two sibling hurdlers but, 17 years on in Zurich, Child cleared the 10 barriers to be crowned Europe's finest, Britain's first female 400 metres hurdles champion since Sally Gunnell 20 years ago.
It was a mere 16 days since Child had celebrated Commonwealth silver. There, she was the poster girl of the Games, aware of the magnitude of expectation from the moment she stepped out at the city's airport to be greeted by her very own giant billboard.
This time, she went under the radar, unnoticed amid the bigger names and voices of the British team, not that Child minded. There was to be no more Hampden roar either, more a wave of exhausted hurdlers crashing down on her as she desperately sought the finish.
Almost staggering and stumbling over the line, she finished just in front but with disbelief etched on her face, staring wide-eyed and expectant up at the scoreboard. Even when the gold was ratified, momentarily she stood unable to take in the achievement before a Union Flag was thrust into her clutches and she started her lap of honour.
Bedecked in the blue numeral of the No 1 ranked athlete in Europe, the expectation was gold and she knew it. "It didn't help, it just advertises the fact you should be the favourite," she said. "So I was quite nervous but I managed to calm myself down and did what I had to do.
"My legs were dying coming off that last hurdle and all of a sudden I was about five metres out and everybody came alongside me. That's why I didn't really know what had happened when I crossed the line."
It has been the year of the former PE teacher's life, which she plans to celebrate by "eating rubbish" and going on holiday with her fiancé, Brian Doyle. "I can't believe it," she said. "If you'd said Commonwealth silver and European gold at the start [of the year] I wouldn't have believed it. The Commonwealths meant a lot because it was at home but to have my own title and be European champion is the best feeling ever."
It took Britain's medal tally to 15 at these championships, seven of them gold. The team's record tally of 19 (nine gold) looks set to fall today as Olympic champions Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah go in the long jump and 5,000m respectively, with the four relay teams also capable of golds.
There was to be no golden double for 40-year-old mother-of-two Jo Pavey. In the final of the 5,000m, the Exeter athlete tired in the final stages and came home in seventh behind race winner Meraf Bahta.
"I'm sort of gutted I didn't feel better when I was running," Pavey said. "I couldn't be happier to come away with a gold from this championship – it's a dream come true."
Lynsey Sharp consoles third-placed Joanna Jozwik
Lynsey Sharp had shed tears of joy in Glasgow; in Zurich they were tears of sadness. The defending European 800m champion, the title awarded 18 months later after the winner Yelena Arzhakova's two-year doping ban, had been favourite for gold here after dominating qualifying.
She set off in the final in the mould of David Rudisha, a move she called "suicidal", leading from the front for all but the moment that mattered, Belarusian Maryna Arzamasova passing her in the home straight. It was scant consolation that, in winning silver, Sharp had taken nearly a second off her personal best in 1min 58.15sec.
As she came off the track and laid eyes on her mother, Carol, she burst into tears with the words: "I'm gutted." She said: "I felt so confident after Glasgow and really strong and I knew I had a fast race in me. Perhaps I shouldn't have looked behind me with 120 to go but that's the most uncomfortable way to race a race, running scared the whole way and I knew in that field someone was coming, I was just waiting for them to come and I knew it was going to be her. The time is unbelievable, I'm probably more happy with that than I am with the position."
Bearing in mind that in April, she was in hospital on an antibiotic drip with an air cast on her damaged Achilles, it was a truly remarkable double silver. In Glasgow too she had been in hospital the morning of her 800m final on a drip as sickness struck, this time the build-up was surprisingly straightforward.
She added: "[British Athletics coach] Stephen Maguire said this morning 'I had my phone on loud all night just waiting for a phone call about your latest dilemma'."
Instead, it was the aftermath that was the problem, Sharp left pondering what might have been. "If I'd have gone through slower I might not have got the silver or I might have won it… I don't know."
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