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Letter to Athletics Weekly

January 21, 2010

Watching the television coverage of the Edinburgh International Cross Country race on Saturday, you’d be forgiven for not knowing there was an inter-district event on at the same time. An overwhelming focus on the front runners missed some inspiring performances by Scottish athletes. Dan Mulhare in 13th place led the Scottish Universities men to a narrow victory over the West of Scotland. The East District women’s team won convincingly, helped by Freya Murray’s 8th (note to Steve Cram and Brendan Foster: her name’s pronounced Frayer not Friar), but supported by fast-finishing locals Rosie Smith and Sula Young.

As the camera panned across Arthur’s Seat during the race, we were treated to a detailed run-down of poor Cram’s upset travel plans. Horror of horrors, he was forced to travel by bus! But had the commentators done some homework, we could have been following the inter-district competition. Would the highly-rated Shettleston Eritreans lead the West home? Would the up-and-coming Gillespie brothers steal it for the students? No mention of the junior races, where our future stars are to be found.

The kind of elitism that recognises only the best international athletes — when they have already arrived at the top — is one reason why British distance running is in decline. Regional athletes put in the hard hours of training and ought to be recognised for their efforts. Consigning them to obscurity is demotivating, and partly explains why so few go on to international success.

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