One of the success stories of Team Scotland’s record breaking performance at Glasgow 2014, Athletics took its best medal haul for 24 years, heralding the start of a remarkable period for the sport in Scotland. With the next Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast on the horizon, scottishathletics Performance Director, Roger Harkins, believes that competition for places on Team Scotland is set to drive domestic standards even higher.
Scottish athletes have been hititng the headlines over recent months with a string of record breaking performances. Added to the record numbers of Scots selected for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the signs are good for a strong showing Down Under. The qualification period for selection standards for Gold Coast 2018 opened at the start of 2017 and, just three months on, several athletes have already posted one of the two qualifying standards that would put them in the frame for selection.
Selection standards have been based around the potential to finish in the top six in each event – raising the bar from a top eight performance which was sought in the countdown to Glasgow 2014.
And while that will mean reduced numbers in terms of athletes, Harkins believes a ‘leaner’ Team Scotland should have more medal contenders at Gold Coast 2018.
“We’re now just over a year away from Gold Coast 2018 and it is always exciting at this stage in the cycle for each Commonwealth Games,’ said Rodger, who will lead the Athletics team in Australia next April.
“The selection period is open for most of the rest of the year and that means opportunities for athletes to put themselves into contention for selection.
“So many Scottish athletes have stepped up over the past 18 months or so that we’ve more than a few now who are performing at what I would call a global level – we saw that with the big representations in Team GB for the Olympics in Rio and in the recent indoor season at the British Champs and the European Champs.
“A Commonwealth Games in the southern hemisphere at that time of the year – normally it could be difficult to prepare for. But I’m seeing quite a few indications from athletes in various recent performances out of kilter from the ‘normal’ track and field season to give me an awful lot of encouragement for next April.”
Callum Hawkins is one athlete who already has a qualifying standard in the bag – posted when finishing an outstanding 9th in the Rio 2016 Olympic Marathon. With a Scottish Half Marathon Record in Japan last month, and silver at last weekend’s New York Half Marathon, just four seconds behind Olympic Marathon silver medallist Feyisa Lelesa, his preparations for the 2017 World Championships in London and Gold Coast 2018 are right on track.
Hawkins is by no means Scotland’s only chance of Athletics success in Gold Coast and, such is the depth of talent in some disciplines, making the team could prove really tough. The Men’s 1500m is just one example – where youngster Josh Kerr won the NCAA Indoor title in Texas earlier this month to stun American athletics audiences yet will face severe competition from Chris O’Hare, Jake Wightman and Neil Gourley.
Harkins believes this battle for places will ensure that those who do go on to represent Team Scotland in Gold Coast will be formidable opposition for their Commonwealth rivals.
“Glasgow 2014 was an exceptional circumstance in many ways,” he said. “Selection then was based on the potential to finish in a top eight place. This time, for Gold Coast, the Commonwealth Games Scotland General Selection Policy is looking for the potential for a top six finish. That is across all sports and those are the parameters we need to work within.
“Inevitably, that is going to mean there is a real fight on for places in Australia. It is going to be tough to get on the team but what I would say is that those selection standards will drive up performances – and that’s good for our sport.
“Effectively, those that make it will be real contenders for the podium or the final in their events and I think I can safely say – even at this distance – that Scotland will have a very strong team.”
As Team Scotland aims for its most successful overseas Games in Gold Coast, Jon Doig OBE, Chief Executive at Commonwealth Games Scotland and Team Scotland Chef de Mission for Gold Coast 2018, said:
“Across all sports, getting to Gold Coast 2018 will be challenging, but athletes are looking past this to performing at the Games themselves. Athletics have had fantastic success since Glasgow 2014 and it’s exciting to see both well-known names and rising stars making their mark as the next Games approach.
“I look forward to welcoming a strong squad of athletes onto Team Scotland and watching them do the country proud in Gold Coast next year.”