From Rio to Cumbernauld: Back to the heart of our sport

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From Rio to Cumbernauld: Back to the heart of our sport

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How refreshing to see two Olympians turning out to support their clubs at the Scottish Cross Country Relays – not just Olympians either but two of GB’s distance running stars from Rio

Their appearance yesterday drew the attention beforehand of BBC Sport – attention to a domestic championship race that would otherwise be covered only by fans and a nerdy athletics press.

What a fillip for the event that had already drawn its biggest entry in 24 years since the men’s and women’s event was combined.

The appearance of Callum Hawkins and Andrew Butchart in Cumbernauld demonstrates recognition of where they’ve come from and how it’s contributed to their current success. There’s an endearing humility at play. It proves their ambitions lie much further than in making a quick buck off the back of recent success.

The pair proved they are neither too big time to compete in domestic competition, nor swayed too far from their goals and ambitions to be enticed by the sums now inevitably on offer in large sponsored events.

‘Hawkins and Butchart proved they are neither too big time to compete in domestic competition, nor swayed too far from their goals and ambitions’

Butchart, who also turned out recently at the ERRA National 6 Stage Road Relays at Sutton Park, commented afterwards: ’The bottom line is: the things we did last year worked perfectly for me ahead of Rio so it is a case of trying to do the same again – and then see if I can go even quicker on the track next summer.’

Leading Central AC to a fifth-successive triumph is just the start of Butchart’s journey to London 2017. The idea of national club competition forming an integral early part of later individual international success is stardust.

Mark Munro, chief executive of Scottish Athletics – a national governing body certainly showing the way forward in terms of distance running in the UK – rightly points out that ‘the pathway is obvious and that’s a huge motivation for our young athletes.’

For any aspiring youngster – or seasoned club runner still churning out the miles for that matter – Butchart and Hawkins add a serious sense of legitimacy to their efforts.

If what happens on the mud in Cumbernauld is a key plot device to the story yet to unfold on the track next summer, the value of the grassroots scene only increases.

From Rio to Cumbernauld in the space of two months, the tangible link between the two separate worlds suddenly becomes apparent.

And this is where the future of the sport lies.

The dislocation between what’s going on at the elite end of the sport – the one Butchart and Hawkins inhabited in Rio during a successful summer – and the reality of the daily grassroots grind juggled by triers and aspirants has never been greater.

‘The future lies not in the deification of a few false idols scripted to take the sport forward. It’s in reengaging with the grassroots’

Therapeutic use exemptions, fancy bears, doping and corruption continue to dog the headlines around the grey world at the top while the grassroots goes on ignored and alienated.

In pursuit of the wallet of the masses, the sport runs the risk of ignoring those at its heart. It’s a world fast-becoming undesirable let alone relatable and achievable for those starting out. It isn’t a reflection of what’s happening on the ground or what people running in their national relay championships are concerned with either.

But Butchart and Hawkins, who clocked the quickest time of the day, are going some way to restoring credibility.

Their outing in Cumbernauld represents much more than just a quick PR win. Their appearance helps bridge the chasm between the elite and grassroots. It allows the grassroots to sneak out of the shadows again and showcase a part of the sport talked about on TV and in the media in otherwise exclusively murky terms.

The future lies not in the deification of a few false idols scripted to take the sport forward. It’s in reengaging with the grassroots and creating new stories rooted in the heart of the sport.

Words by Chris Rainsford
Image from Amy Bristow
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