Organisers of next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow have delivered an astonishing snub to Liz McColgan by not giving her a role in the showpiece event even though she is the greatest Scottish runner of the modern era.
McColgan, now 49, described the decision as “amazing”, particularly given the fact she was responsible for one of the most glorious days in Scottish athletics, when she won the 10,000 metres on the final day of the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1986.
The Dundee-born athlete went on to win an Olympic silver medal at the Seoul Olympics of 1988, become world champion in 1991, and win the New York and London marathons. She now coaches her 22-year-old daughter Eilish, a hugely promising steeplechase and middle distance prospect.
But asked what role she had been asked to play in Glasgow, McColgan confirmed she had not been approached.
“I won’t be doing anything as far as I know, because I’ve never been asked. It’s kind of amazing. I was Scotland’s only athletics gold medallist the last time the Games were held on home soil and I got the gold four years later in New Zealand too.
“It’s a shame because I think it’s the day in my career I remember most. It was an epic day because it was Scotland’s last chance, there was a lot of pressure, and the emotion from the crowd was something I never experienced again.
“When I became world champion I expected to feel something similar, but it just wasn’t the same as having everyone shouting your name, and all family and friends being there.”
Instead of McColgan the organisers have appointed English-born Tom Daley and Rebecca Adlington as ambassadors, along with Sir Chris Hoy. They are also employing Jonathan Edwards to promote the build-up to the event. A statement released by the organisers yesterday did not explain why she had been overlooked, but said they “will continue to engage positively with a wide range of inspiring athletes, past, present and future as excitement builds towards Glasgow”.
And while she admits to being surprised and disappointed, McColgan said she would still love to be involved in some capacity.
“I just love the sport and that’s it. Hopefully Scotland will have one or two more gold medallists in Glasgow and that will inspire people.”
McColgan now lives close to Eilish’s base at Loughborough. As the 22-year-old’s coach, McColgan continues to apply the lessons she learned during her own extraordinary and largely self-coached career. The day after meeting new UK Athletics performance director Neil Black to talk about lottery funding for Eilish, who finished an impressive tenth in the steeplechase at the World Championships in Moscow in August, McColgan explains that up until now, that has been largely about stopping her daughter taking on too much too soon.
“When it comes to running I’m totally objective and would never say someone has the ability to do well if they don’t. With Eilish I’ve known all along she can run. She could reach the level I did, which means win a medal at a major championships, but I’ve been protective because you can’t make 17-year-olds run 70 miles a week. It has to be gradual.”
It is indicative of the dangers that Eilish spent much of last season carrying an injury, albeit one attributable to her specialising in steeplechase. In July 2011 she broke a bone in the top part of one foot when landing on the sloping ground at a water jump. Though now healed after surgery, the McColgans believe reduced mobility in the ankle lead to on-going stress problems in the upper part of the shin, but showing something of her mother’s gritty individualism, Eilish dealt with it her own way.
“The season should have been a write-off, but she really wanted to go to the worlds and said she thought the injury could be managed, so we changed to cross-training and only running two days a week.”
A few days before the trial in which she had to prove her fitness, Eilish also, McColgan relates in disbelief, decided to change to hurdling the water jump so she landed where the slope was less steep, reducing the stress.
“I couldn’t watch the trial because I knew what a risk it was, and the commentary was slating her hurdling technique because they hadn’t a clue what was going on, but she won amazingly well.
“She went in to the worlds ranked 58th, qualified for the final with a personal best, and finished tenth when she should have been last. Given all she’d had to cope with, what a season. Her priority this year is to really strengthen and I think in the next couple of years she’s going to evolve into a world-class steeplechaser.”