Photo Getty Images for European Athletics
By Charles Bannerman
Cross country isn’t a discipline suited to records but Megan Keith still managed to bag one, along with team and individual gold, at the Euro Cross Champs in Brussels.
In what was more of a coronation than a competition, her enormous winning margin of 83 seconds was over double the previous most decisive race victory at these continental championships.
And Megan looked as if she was enjoying ploughing through ankle deep mud – like molten Belgian chocolate – so much so that a great big smile broke out with about half a mile left to run.
Come the finishing straight, she was even high fiving the proffered hands of spectators, which almost created a hiccup.
So focused was Megan on exchanging slapped palms that she very nearly took a wrong turn behind an advertising hoarding . . . which might have been a little embarrassing for someone whose elite sporting career began as a European Junior orienteering champion.
Photo Getty Images for European Athletics
Megan’s Power of 10 profile reveals her first race as a reassuring U11 fourth place for Inverness Harriers in the North of Scotland Cross Country League in 2012.
Reassuring, because it’s clear from the start that there’s never been any force feeding or hot-housing, leaving her to develop naturally to produce when it really matters, and not before.
She never even won a North District Championship title until 2018 nor her first Scottish National title until 2019, by then under the guidance of coach Ross Cairns. Echoes of Jake Wightman and Laura Muir.
The rest, as they say, is history for an athlete who some thought might follow in her father’s footsteps on the hills, which is a far cry from becoming European U23 5000m champion and, at 21, breaking 15 minutes on the track and representing GB and NI at the World Champs in Budapest.
Alec Keith was a talented hill runner both for Hunters Bog Trotters and Inverness Harriers.
Maybe he feels grateful, too, for that 15 minutes of fame, now that he will be far better known as ‘Megan Keith’s dad’.
And although Alec’s passion for the hills wasn’t passed on, you don’t have to watch Megan run for long to realise that certain technical characteristics most definitely have.
Notwithstanding the dizzy heights now reached, the fundamentally cautious approach of these earliest years has continued.
In 2023 she has run just 14 races, but four of them have been European or World Championships, with both the former yielding gold medals.
She was reportedly slightly concerned about having taken two months away from racing after Budapest, but that abstention paid dividends in brussels and indeed in the GB trials in Liverpool two weeks earlier where she defeated a mixed Senior and U23 field by almost a minute.
The last pair of feet had barely laboured through the Brussels mud when, given what she produced in both these races, questions emerged about whether she should have gone in the Senior Women championship instead?
Her answer would appear to be ‘All in good time’ . . .
Cross country queen! Congrats Megan! 👑💫 https://t.co/JLXfoROPY3
— Laura Muir (@lauramuiruns) December 10, 2023
The social media response across our channels on Sunday really was something to behold . . . and savour.
There are few things we like better to see than elite Scots commanding attention and a wide reach to help build both their own profile and that of our sport.
So it was great to enjoy the widespread excitement and there are a couple of posts on Twitter we would like to highlight (both pasted in below).
The first came from none other than Laura Muir who labelled Megan the ‘Queen of Cross Country‘ – which is a pretty apt description. That kind of support is the #SALtogether we often reference.
Secondly we ourselves flagged that for a short spell shortly after 1pm on Sunday, as Megan closed out her remarkable win via what amounted to a lap of honour, her name was ‘trending in the United Kingdom. Love it.
Megan Keith status taken another leap forward today – see below 'Trending in the UK' around 1pm en route Euro Cross 🥇@katymaybarden @EilidhDoyle @KatharineMerry @WightmanGeoff @James_Athletics @bryanb1965 @lindajsinclair @RossKCairns1 pic.twitter.com/u7kVSGt2KO
— scottishathletics (@scotathletics) December 10, 2023