The Scottish stars are ready to shine in their respective 5000m and 1500m finals at the IAAF World Championships
Confidence is such a key part of an athlete’s armoury. If self belief is in short supply, then all the training and preparation can count for very little.
It’s with rather good timing, then, that a healthy dose of it has recently arrived for two British athletes as they head into the biggest night of their athletic lives.
Not so long ago, Chris O’Hare and Eilish McColgan were aspiring youngsters who spent much of their formative years on a minibus travelling to athletics meetings around Scotland.
The next stop on their respective journeys are IAAF World Championships finals.
O’Hare goes in the 1500m on the last night of London 2017, with McColgan racing an hour earlier in the 5000m alongside Laura Muir.
It has already been a year to remember for all of them, with progress made and significant forward steps taken.
McColgan was impressive in her heat, coming just 0.82 shy of equalling mum Liz’s 5000m best of 14:59.56. It’s not just about her times improving, however – she is starting to feel like she belongs in an event that has taken a bit of getting used to after her switch from the 3000m steeplechase.
“It’s taken a couple of years for me to get (my head round) the 5km but I feel like I’m coming to it now,” says the 26-year-old, who admits a real turning point came at the Diamond League meeting in Monaco when she ran 3000m in a personal best of 8:31.39, the first time she had bettered Liz’s mark for the distance.
“I’ve always felt like those girls were so much better than me and to be honest confidence has probably been pretty low on my behalf – maybe because of who my mum is and all that sort of stuff – but I always felt like I wasn’t quite at that level.
“But, then, watching people like Laura Muir I thought ‘why not?’. Callum Hawkins just came fourth in the marathon and these kind of people – Chris O’Hare, Lynsey Sharp – are people who I’ve grown up with and from the age of 12 travelling all around Scotland on minibuses.
“To watch them competing against the best in the world you think ‘what’s different with me? Why can’t I do that?
“So in Monaco I really had the confidence of, ‘right, let’s just go for it and if I die, I die’. That gave me a lot of confidence and, if I have to lead then I’ll just lead it and hope that I have the strength to pull through.
“I think the 5000m is totally different from the steeplechase and it’s taken me a long time to get used to running on the flat. You’ve seen the trouble the barriers can cause people the other night – it really does cut your rhythm – but in the 5000m I feel so much more fluid and I’m actually enjoying it now, which is a nice thing.”
She and Muir certainly won’t be short of support when they take to the track, and not just from the crowd inside the former Olympic Stadium.
Both are members of Dundee Hawkhill Harriers, a club which is never slow to give its backing.
“All the kids there always get so excited,” adds McColgan. “We get handmade mugs, handmade cards and they sent an ecard which all the kids had signed to say good luck. The club are so supportive and for them it’s brilliant to see two Scottish girls on the start line – they might look at that and think ‘I might be able to do that one day’. The support we get from the club is amazing, they are really, really brilliant.
“Between myself, my mum, Laura…our club records must be amazing!”
Muir will be looking to bounce back from the agony of just missing out on a medal in the 1500m, an event O’Hare knows is particularly difficult to master.
When it comes to assessing his own chances of doing so, however, the 26-year-old has never felt quite like this before. His inspiration comes in the shape of Matt Centrowitz, the man who unexpectedly became Olympic 1500m champion last summer.
“I think it’s the most deeply-rooted confidence I’ve ever had,” says O’Hare. “Talking with my psychologist at the start of the year, it was about building what we call the Centrowitz confidence, because he’s confident beyond belief and it’s just such a deep-rooted confidence.
“Previously I’ve had this kind of superficial confidence that I’ve managed to talk myself into a semi-confident state. I was a bit nervous in the warm-up (for the semi-final) about what was going to unfold but I talked to Terrence my coach and he said ‘you don’t have to be on top form tonight, you just have to be good enough to qualify’.
“There’s 12 guys all wanting a medal. There are more guys than medals so it’s going to be a fight and that’s what I’m ready for.”
Centrowitz won’t be involved in that fight, the American’s early exit coming after a year of injury struggles. Will that significant absence therefore change O’Hare’s approach?
“Not really,” he insists. “He’s a class act and it’s unfortunate he’s not here but it happens. The last two years, I’ve been coming into champs hurt and I haven’t made the finals, but that’s what happens. This sport is cut-throat and it just goes to show that, even with an Olympic champion, if you’re not fit and healthy then it’s going to be a hell of a job to get through.”
As for the approach he plans to take into the final, O’Hare adds: “Just relax. As far as we’re concerned there’s three and a half minutes of hard work left this weekend. The semi-final is almost the hardest part, confidence-wise and mentally. Now we’re there we just need to execute the plan.”