Top of the World

Zoey Clark and Eilidh Doyle won relay silver at London 2017, along with teammates Emily Diamond and Laviai Nielsen

The IAAF first held World Championships at Helsinki in 1983. Initially every 4 years, it changed quickly to a biannual event and this year’s championships will be the 17th edition. In that time, 52 Scots have represented Great Britain & Northern Ireland, with Lee McConnell holding the ‘Scottish record’ of 6 appearances.

The inaugural World Championships were held in Helsinki, the virtual home of athletics, which had successfully staged the 1952 Olympic Games and the 1971 European Championships. Allan Wells had season’s bests of 10.34 and 20.58 ranking him 29th and 13th in the world respectively and his qualification for both sprint finals and two fourth places were examples of his ability to compete to the highest standard in the most nerve wracking of circumstances. One of just two European sprinters in the 100 final, he finished a close up 4th in 10.27, just 0.06 outside the silver medal won by Calvin Smith in 10.21 behind Carl Lewis’s runaway win of 10.07 and was the fastest European in the race, behind the USA sprinters who took the 3 medals.

In the 200, the top runners lined up in the final with Smith in lane 3, Wells in 4, Mennea in 5 and Elliott Quow (USA) in 6. Smith ran a superb race round the bend with a clear lead into the straight, followed by countryman Quow with Wells in 3rd place ahead of Emmelmann (GDR). Fast finishing Mennea passed the German and then Wells who tied up 30 metres from the finish, to take the bronze by 0.01 from the Scot.

The six other Scots represented at these first championships – Chris Black, Drew McMaster, Meg Ritchie, Cameron Sharp, Sandra Whittaker and Graham Williamson – were top-class athletes but only one qualified for the final, Meg Ritchie in the discus. In the final, all her legal throws were over 60 metres, her best of 62.50 putting her in 8th position. Meg’s career high was 67.48 in 1981 (a performance that would have won silver in Helsinki) and to this day she remains the only Scotswoman who has thrown over 60 metres in the discus.

Eight years on, and attention turned to Tokyo. There, 6 Scots were represented, with 4 of them – Liz McColgan, Tom McKean, Yvonne Murray and Geoff Parsons – having gained experience at the 1987 championships in Rome.

At the end of 1990, Liz McColgan gave birth to a daughter, Eilish, and made an astonishing return to win a series of important races and then place 3rd at the World Cross Country Championships at Antwerp in March 1991.  At Hengelo, Holland in June, she became the first British athlete to break 31 minutes for 10,000, winning in 30:57.07, setting her up for the World Championships in Tokyo, Japan, in August. By the time she reached the start line, the pressure was building on Britain’s gold hopes: Steve Backley (javelin) and Tom McKean (800) failed to qualify for their finals, Peter Elliott (1500) had an achilles injury and Yvonne Murray (3000) slid disastrously through the field, all failing to produce their expected high-level performances. But McColgan was made of stern stuff. From the gun, it was clear that McColgan was going to cut out the pace and challenge anyone to stay with her. She led through 1000 in 3:02.95, 2000 in 6:09.42 and 3000 in 9:16.96 before her rivals started to fade. Kristiansen dropped after 3400, European champion Romanova stepped off the track after 2 miles, then Lynn Jennings (Canada) and Jill Hunter drifted back before McColgan reached 5000 in 15:34.15. The German Kathrin Ullrich could not cope with McColgan’s driving pace and trailed off. The World Junior gold medallist, Derartu Tulu tried to move in front and slow down the pace with 3000 but McColgan wouldn’t let her. Tulu’s spirit was broken (she faded to 8th) as McColgan drummed out 75/76 sec laps. She covered the final kilometre in 3:04.39, her fastest since the opening 1000, but exhaustion and elation saw her walk through the line to victory. “I was waiting for someone to pass me, but nobody did,” said McColgan. “Tulu tried, but she was actually trying to slow down the pace. I knew she was tired, and I knew if I wanted the gold, I would have to go for it. And I went, saying ‘I want, I want, I want …”.

Her winning time was 31:14.31. She had destroyed the rest of the world to win by over 20 seconds from Chinese athletes in 2nd and 3rd. She was the first British track woman to win gold at World or Olympic level since Ann Packer in the same stadium at the 1964 Olympics. Brendan Foster described the run as “the greatest performance by a British distance runner”.

Scottish athletes have won 12 medals over the 16 championships, but this very first medal won by Liz McColgan was the only one we have achieved in an individual event and the only gold medal success.

All the other medal successes have been achieved in relay races. Dougie Walker gained bronze running leg 3 in the 1997 sprint relay and Jamie Bowie in the 2013 4×400 metres semi-final ran a storming 44.64 leg to help GB qualify for the final where they collected bronze medals (eventually, after Russia were stripped of their bronzes four years later).

The women’s 4×400 has contributed 9 medals with Lee McConnell winning 4, Eilidh Child/Doyle 3, and one each to Zoey Clark and Kirsten McAslan. Lee McConnell has won 4 bronze medals, perhaps the best being the one gained at Osaka in 2007, where she was timed running leg three in a remarkable 49.79 seconds to give Nicola Sanders the chance to overhaul the Russians for the bronze medal.

McConnell’s medals came in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011 and Eilidh Doyle continued the sequence with medals in 2013, 2015 and 2017. Her 2013 medal was later upgraded to silver after another Russian disqualification and in 2017, for the first time, there were 2 Scots in the final quartet, Zoey Clark leading off and Eilidh running leg 3 on the way to silver.

Now to Doha. After 28 years, can we get another individual medal to add to Liz’s gold?

Expand Social Feeds