It is just 100 days and counting until Glasgow takes centre stage in the sporting world. The final lap until the Commonwealth Games of 2014 begins on Monday. To mark that milestone, Sportsmail begins a week-long series aimed at shining the spotlight on those who hope to carve their names into history, those who have experienced Games success in the past – and the final preparations being made to ensure Glasgow 2014 is a sporting success.
Funny things, families. Be they bona fide relations or the kind of closer-than-blood brethren some are lucky enough to accumulate over the years, they wield a major influence on even the most self-reliant loners.
Out on the track, battling elbow to elbow with world-class athletes all chasing the same golden goal, Eilish McColgan can rely on no one for help. She either fights her way into position, leaping hurdles and water jumps as she wrestles for position, or she’s in for a long night.
Mum’s the word! Elish McColgan is coached by her former athlete mother Liz (L)
Like every elite competitor, though, the Scottish steeplechase star has a support network she can rely on. And, while everyone knows about famous mum Liz working as Eilish’s ideal coach, the moral support goes one generation further back – to where it all began for this particular sporting dynasty.
Liz’s dad, Martin Lynch, predicted an Olympic appearance for Eilish when she was just 14. Betty Lynch still collects every scrap of information on her progress. The enthusiasm fired by their daughter’s ascent to Commonwealth Games and then World Championship gold created something lasting, all right.
‘We went to see my gran a wee while ago and she’s a funny character,’ Eilish said. ‘She doesn’t talk much about my mum to me but I know my mum was from a really bad area growing up, that she had to run two miles to the track, do her session and then run two miles back.
‘So she was doing a lot of miles even as a young kid. She was so driven to get out of where she was from.
‘My gran is really interested in my athletics. She always asks my mum to tell here when I’m on TV, she’s got a big book of newspaper articles about all my races – every article in the local paper.
‘She’s just so interested, so proud of my mum’s achievements and just following me now, as well.
‘My grandad was very into athletics. Everything I did, he knew about it. I remember being really young, before he passed away, and he told me: “One day, you’ll run in the Olympics – but I won’t be there to watch you. Somebody will have to be there to see you.” ‘That was when I was 14, so to hear that then, and for it to happen, was something special for my family.’ In a little over 100 days’ time, McColgan will follow up that Olympic appearance with a home run at Hampden; up against some of the toughest competition imaginable at the Commonwealth Games, she still has high hopes of impressing.
At the age of 23, she’s well used to her success being put down – rather lazily – to merely a question of pedigree, as if being the daughter of Liz Lynch and Peter McColgan, the latter no mean athlete himself, made running somehow easier.
Well, maybe genetics play a part. But it must be tiring for the Loughborough-based runner to constantly explain the remarkably healthy parental attitude that kept her a long way removed from athletics when growing up.
Good breeding: McColgan’s success at athletics is sometimes lazily put down to genetics
The eldest of five kids the now-divorced couple had while together, Eilish says she was never given so much as a nudge towards a career in sport. As for holding themselves up as examples, well, Liz has never even shown her daughter footage of her most famous races.
‘My mum never chats about her races unless you ask her something personally,’ she said, adding: ‘But, as athletes, it’s easier for us to relate to her because we know she’s been through it all.
‘If you’re having a bad day, you know she’s probably had a hundred of those. Any advice she gives, you know it’s come from experience, not reading a book.
‘The fact she’s been there and done it makes it a lot easier, especially when they’ve reached the highest possible level – a lot higher than any of us have ever been. You have to respect what she says.
‘My mum and dad were really good. Obviously my mum coached me from the start. When I was really young, people would know me as Liz McColgan’s daughter – and expect me to win things just because of who my mum was.
‘But I never really felt pressure on me to perform because of who she is. She has been there for me throughout it all, helped me so much.
Sports Personality of the Year: Liz McColgan won the 1990 10,000m World Championships
‘When I was really young, I knew my mum and dad were both runners. But I was really naïve, I just thought that everybody’s mum and dad went out for runs.
‘I can’t ever remember being at a race, can’t really remember being at the track watching either of them train. They kept me away from it all.
‘So I never really knew they were athletes. It wasn’t actually until my first year at high school that I realised how good they were.
‘And, to be honest, it wasn’t until I started taking sport seriously that I realised how difficult it is.
‘When someone says: “That person is a world champion” you can think: “Oh, that’s good.” Until you do it yourself and realise how difficult it is to be the best in Dundee, then Scotland, then the UK, then best in the world – you start to realise what an achievement it is.
‘I never saw my mum’s World Championship win until I was 14, when a journalist showed it to me. That was the only time I’d seen it.
‘It’s not like my mum and dad sat me down and made me watch it. They know how difficult athletics is, so they wanted me to make my own decision.
‘None of my other siblings have much interest in the sport, although my little sister Orla likes to think she can run. She comes to the track. But nobody is pushing any of them.’ Ask Eilish what her mum is like as a coach and the answer his hardly surprising, given the absolute determination that made Liz such a fearsome competitor in her day.
‘She’s very highly driven,’ she said, adding: ‘She’ll give you a time that she believes you should be able to hit.
‘She’s not hard, just strict.
Sometimes, at the end of sessions, you’ll think you’re finished and she’ll throw in an extra rep.
‘She does that to make you stronger. Some people save themselves for the last rep, don’t go flat out to the last one. So she put in another one here and there to surprise you – because, in races, you never know what might happen.
‘It made us all mentally tougher. You think you’re tired but, when she says there is one more lap to do, you find out you can do it.
I suppose she was very good at that, breaking down mental barriers, making you realise what you’re capable of.
Blonde ambition: McColgan insists that her mum’s experiences have made her a tougher athlete
‘Even when you’re totally dead, she can get you up and working again. At the time, you think you’ll never do it – but you do.
‘Athletics is hugely mental, so getting tougher is key. I was never treated any differently in the group. That was really important to me.
‘Every single person in that group was an athlete and my mum was coach. Setting that boundary early has made it work the way it has.’ Those early years training in Dundee come flooding back to Eilish as we sit in a supermarket café (oh, the glamour) not far from the Ronnie McIntosh Athletic Stadium, officially a three star Scottish Tourist Board visitor attraction.
She’s just been put through her paces there by a local coach, the Olympian joining other runners in punishing 300-metre reps completed in biting wind.
It’ s not freezing, it’s perishing. But the work has to be done.
However painful it may be.
Chatting to both Eilish and boyfriend Howell, a fellow runner, it’s clear that the city – and the athletics community here – mean a great deal to hundreds of club runners and fun runners, as well as the elite.
Recalling those first steps into the sport, she laughed as he said: ‘The first time I joined Dundee Hawkhill Harriers, we were coached by a guy called Pete, who had a wooden leg.
‘That’s all I remember. That and the fact that all the kids went to his group and just played man hunt out on the golf courses.
‘I don’t think they’d allow you to do it nowadays but we used to run out in the pitch black, all over Caird Park golf course, just playing games.
‘With manhunt, you’d be finding people and chasing them. So you were running all night, without realising it.
‘The first couple of months, that’s all I did, played games with all the other kids. I was 11 or 12.
‘Then I decided I wanted to move up to the track group. I did high jump, sprint hurdles, every single event. I don’t know why but I settled on running.
‘I moved from group to group, before my mum said if I was really serious she would coach me. The group built up from there and we ended up with around 35 of all ages, all abilities.
‘It was really social, too. You didn’t feel like you were going training. All your best friends were there, at the weekends you’d hang out together, do things together.
‘As we got older and grew up together, a lot of us have lived together, gone to university together. Two of the group even got married.
Support act: McColgan has relied on generations of her family for help and advice
‘People that I knew at school and university, I’ve lost contact with a lot of them. But people from that training group, even though a lot of them aren’t in athletics any more, we still keep in contact.
‘It’s maybe because we’ve all seen each other at our best and worst times, that makes us so close. I think we’ve been really lucky.’ The club is still going strong, with maybe 85 kids turning up every Tuesday and Thursday night. Plenty bring their parents along, too, and get a kick out of trying to out-sprint the old yins.
From father to son, mother to daughter, the little flicker of interest is kindled.
Lifelong friendships are formed in the heat of battle and the numbing cold of winter training sessions. People build their own family units. And look to one Lifelong friendships are formed in the heat of battle and the numbing cold of winter training sessions. People build their own family units. And look to one shining example of where it can take them.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/othersports/article-2603963/Commonwealth-Games-Elish-McColgan-admits-shes-expected-win-mum-Liz.html#ixzz3gcjxZeTt
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