Photo from Mark Shearman in Dublin
By Peter Jardine, Head of Communications
Olympic medallist Laura Muir was cheering on from home. Doha-based Liz McColgan was cheering on from the other side of the globe.
And Jenny Meadows, part of the BBC commentary team alongside Steve Cram at the Euro Cross, became a prominent cheer-leader on social media.
Megan Keith felt the full support of the Scottish, and British, endurance community as she sped to glory in Dublin to win the U20 Women’s gold as the Euro Cross Champs made a welcome return after a two-year absence.
It was a superb performance which came as no real surprise to those who have watched her development in Scotland over the past two or three years and then noted imperious British Cross Challenge victories this winter at Cardiff and Milton Keynes and then in the trials at Liverpool.
Meadows for her part met Megan as part of the GB and NI team staff at the Euro U20s last summer in Estonia when the Inverness Harriers athlete went within a fraction of a second of a medal in an enthralling finish to the women’s 3000m final.
Jenny tweeted a heart-felt heart-shaped message and that kind of support was echoed across our channels with the Facebook post ‘likes’ quickly reaching 1k.
So how did it all begin for the 19-year-old from Inverness who also love orienteering and has moved to Edinburgh Uni this year to study sports science?
And what is she like to coach?
‘Megan was around the Harriers from the age of about 12 and with the U13s group,’ recalled Ross Cairns.
‘She went through the age groups and really started to blossom in second year U17. She’d had a break while growing at one stage and also she trained quite a bit with orienteering – and preferred off track training to track.
‘Really Megan is a great example of a development athlete. It’s taken a few years to reach this above all the key thing is: Megan runs for fun.
‘Her whole approach to this weekend was to go over to Dublin and enjoy racing cross country. Of course, given what she’s done in the British Cross Challenge, I was thinking she had a real chance but we didn’t talk too much about it.
‘In fact, we had a call about 9pm on Saturday night after the GB team meeting and we were chatting about other races, the U23s being over 6k and how a course as short as 4k might not suit her!’
Jenny Meadows shows her support for Megan Keith on Twitter
Those tuning in to the BBC coverage from Dublin soon became aware that the Scot was a bone fide contender for a medal.
It just looked that way right from the start and at points in the race when she used uphills or corners to apply pressure.
‘Megan isn’t by any means fixated with tactics and I think she’s been quoted as saying ‘winning wasn’t in the gameplan’,’ said Ross.
‘But I think she’s smart enough as an athlete to know how to react and when to react in a race.
‘We had mentioned a wee uphill as a point where she might try and gain a few metres on people – that was about the extent of it. Again I come back to it being fun for Megan.
‘Having said that, she learned a lot from the Scottish 4K Champs at Lanark when Laura Muir raced. Megan went out strongly as she tends to and that ensured she had a close-up of how Laura was racing it.
‘I am still going through the social media from Sunday and it is great to see the support from the likes of Laura, Liz McColgan and Jenny Meadows.’
Support from her coach has been crucial and a move to Edinburgh to study this year was a worry. Equally, there are clear difficulties for North athletes in terms of the financial costs that come with seeking deeper competition away from the Highlands.
‘This season my biggest worry was would Megan cope with the Uni move,’ said Ross.
‘Athletes become students and move away from their training groups. On her schedule we actually wrote down ‘settle in Edinburgh’ across a couple of months.
‘She spent a couple of weeks just finding routes to run and Mhairi Maclennan (and others) helped her.
‘Megan now knows Jenny Selman, too, and that could be a training partner on the track who could help us. So there’s a bit of an eco-system there in Edinburgh, which is helpful.’‘Yes it is very costly for North athletes. It can reach a point where you need the deeper competition to progress but there are obviously financial impacts to that.
‘There’s a journey there for each of us and I have to learn and grow as a coach, too.
‘But, moments after the race, I messaged her training group and said ‘Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be achieved from the Highlands.’
Megan Keith, and Ross Cairns, are clear proof it can . . . and indeed the principle applies right across the length and breadth of Scotland.
Photo from Mark Shearman in Dublin
Ross Cairns and Megan Keith after winning Development Coach of the Year and U20 Athlete of the Year in our 4J Awards in 2020