Zoey Clark in action at the Commonwealth Games (photo by Bobby Gavin)
By Katy Barden
‘Last summer was really quite exciting,’ reflects coach Ryan Oswald.
‘As an athlete I didn’t get to the Commonwealth Games, but as a coach I managed to get both Zoey and Rebecca to Birmingham.
‘It was Rebecca’s first Games, and just to see her excitement . . . I said to her, ‘You know, I didn’t have this opportunity, so take it with both hands and enjoy it. Squeeze every last bit of opportunity out of it.’ She certainly did.’
Oswald is an Aberdeen-based software engineer and a multiple Scottish sprints champion.
He moved into coaching in 2021 and guides a group of athletes including Great Britain international Zoey Clark, European and Commonwealth 4x400m relay bronze medallist in 2022, and Rebecca Matheson, a member of Scotland’s 4x100m Commonwealth Games relay quartet.
The Scotland 4x100m team at the Commonwealth Games (photo by Bobby Gavin)
Having been out in Geneva to witness the 4x100m team equal their own Scottish record and Commonwealth Games qualifying time (44.75) in June, Oswald laughs when he recalls their post-race debrief, a discussion he likens to the five stages of grief.
‘We were sitting having lunch afterwards and they went through every emotion,’ he says.
‘Right in front of me they went from ‘Surely they’ll pick us (for Birmingham), we’ve got the standard . . .’ on to, ‘They’ll have to pick us,’ and then finally, ‘Oh no, I don’t think they’re going to pick us.’’
That the team was eventually selected was hugely positive, not just for the athletes and their coaches, but also for the sport more generally.
‘It was really great to see pretty much every sprint event filled at the Commonwealths,’ says Oswald.
‘For all those athletes who competed in Birmingham, just being there validates their career and all that training. Obviously we want medals and finalists, and it was great to see the 4x400m women win bronzes.
‘But, for the likes of Rebecca, that could be a defining point in her career. She’ll always remember that. Hopefully we retain these people in the sport and they go on to bigger and better things. And, at the same, inspire others.’
Oswald believes that many factors have contributed to the recent success in Scottish sprinting, not least the strength and depth across both men’s and women’s events.
He references the men’s 100m as an example: ‘There were 20+ runners running sub-11 seconds in Scotland last year.
‘When I was competing, there were only a handful. It’s the same for women with regards to breaking 12 seconds. The depth has really improved.’
Eilidh Doyle was a big role model for Zoey Clark, says Ryan Oswald (photo by Sue Gyford)
He welcomes younger coaches coming through and references former international hurdlers Allan Scott and Chris Baillie, as well as Francis Smith and Eoghan MacNamara (who coaches Taylah Paterson).
He also talks about role models – Eilidh Doyle, he says, was an incredible role model for Clark – as well as athletes taking every opportunity to better themselves.
The Commonwealth Games effect, of course, should not be underestimated: ‘I think since Glasgow (2014) our athletes have started to believe there are opportunities to get involved in relay teams.
‘Just seeing Scottish sprinters on TV, you can see the junior athletes thinking, ‘I train for that . . . one day that could be me.’