Rory Clark previews European Indoor Athletics Championships, to be held in the Emirates Arena on the first weekend in March
Injury will rob Jake Wightman a chance to compete in front of a home crowd in the Emirates Arena at the start of March. The Nottingham-born Scot is set to miss the European Indoor Athletics Championships coming to Glasgow on the first of the month. It’s a case of bad timing for Wightman who had more than a successful 2018, taking a bronze medal home in the 1,500m events of both European and Commonwealth Championships. Thankfully, there’s plenty more than a singular saving grace to ensure that Glasgow might be able to cheer on one of their own come March.
Even though he’s still sidelined, injury looks to be less of a hindrance to Andrew Butchart, who announced all the way back in November his intentions to compete at the upcoming European Indoors. Butchart has been taken out of action for a significant period - his return at the Emirates will see him back in major competition for the first time in the best part of a year. A broken foot curtailed his attack on last April’s Commonwealth Games and he has voluntarily sat out the cross country season to make sure he is back to full fitness for the weekend’s championships. One can’t expect Butchart to be immediately back to medal form, but he’s brazenly confident about his chances, claiming on record in a BBC interview that a medal should be “comfortable” but that he really aims to win gold on his return.
If it’s a case of bad luck and perhaps even worse timing for the duo of Butchart and Wightman, then the opposite must be true for the majority remainder of the British squad in Glasgow. There’s a real optimism surrounding British Athletics at the minute and it must be said that even to the amateur eye, it’s justifiable. Generally speaking, all relevant athletics columns on these isles have been taken up by the middle distance exploits of Mo Farah and before him, Dai Greene or indeed by the one-woman (and now retired) wrecking ball of Jessica Ennis-Hill. However, it’s the sprinters that are taking front and centre at the minute. Dina Asher-Smith had a fantastic showing at the European Outdoors in Berlin last year and should she follow out the path that looks already to be carved, will be rubbing shoulders with the world’s elite come the Summer of Tokyo 2020. Although British Athletics have yet to confirm fully the final squad for Glasgow, one has to think that Asher-Smith will be taken and will fill the vacancy marked "favourite" for the 60m event. The first and second finishers in the men’s 100m at the Europeans in Berlin last year, Zharnel Hughes and Reece Prescod, also look to be shoe-ins alongside Asher-Smith and again will be amongst the favourites for the equivalent 60m.
Of course, no athletics article would be complete without the mention of three of Scottish running’s brightest sparks. Eilidh Doyle has perhaps stumbled since her individual gold in the 400m hurdles back in the European Outdoors of 2014. Any medal she has received since has been as part of the 4x400m relay squad. Thankfully, however, the 4x400m is the only relay event included at the European Indoors and the Great British team have been consistent medal challengers in the event for the past five years. Doyle has been the mainstay in whatever iteration the team has taken. Eilish McColgan, daughter of ex-10,000m World Champion Liz, posted an unexpected silver in the 5,000m in Berlin last Summer and will be looking to carry on her rude form in front of a raucous home crowd. Although she was a full seven seconds behind eventual champion Sifan Hassan on that occasion, McColgan is running as fast or faster than she has before and will be looking to go one better in Glasgow.
The lattermost athlete in this trio is obviously Laura Muir. Such is the scale of her exploits that she has been named an ambassador for these games. It isn’t really that surprising. She has been on fire recently and is without a doubt one of the most exciting names in British sport right now, one which will surely be on the lips of the pundits going into an Olympic year in 2020. Muir had a 2018 to equal Asher-Smith. On a personal note, she was named Scotland’s Athlete of the Year but she also won the 1,500m in Berlin. Unlike her compatriots, she also boasted a major world title after she took gold in the 1,500m Diamond League Final in Brussels last year. She managed the same feat two years prior and on both outings, set a sub-4 minute time. The 1,500m is considered the modern mile: to complete it in Muir’s PB of 3.55.22 is simply mind-boggling.
I am sure that these performances probably rank higher than any personal accolade in Muir’s mind. The most noteworthy aspect of these runs, at big meets like the Diamond League, is that she is pulling these performances out of the bag when they are needed most. It’s astonishing. Double Olympic Champion Kelly Holmes has lauded Muir recently, tipping her for Olympic Gold in the future. She’s perhaps lucky that athletics is generally speaking, only in the public eye during an Olympic period. It will allow her not to be sidetracked or be the victim of bombastic press releases every day up until she competes in Glasgow. However, if she keeps going the way she is, it might not be long before we start to see a fever built up around track running equal to the halcyon days of Ovett and Coe, Christie and Gunnel or indeed McColgan and Wells.