Atheltics: Stewart Clan quickly making strides on the scene

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Kenyan athletes running as a team when representing their country in distance races is nothing new, and a formidable sight it is, but it is just possible Scotland could have four sisters all competing in the blue vest in a few years – and imagine the impact that could have.

Edinburgh Athletic Club’s Clan Stewart have until now been operating just below the radar but results at the Scottish Cross Country Relay Championships at Cumbernauld have thrown them into the limelight, though Emily (19), Louisa (16), Rosanna (15) and Esme (12) certainly have time on their side.

Emily not only led a Capital trio to the senior team title – despite the absence of her illustrious club-mate Freya Murray – but also recorded the day’s fastest individual time of 15 minutes 03 seconds for the two-and-a-half mile stage, beating such seasoned opponents as Kilbarchan’s Elspeth Curran (15:08) and Fife’s Hester Dix (15:15).

“I was a little surprised as I didn’t feel all that good and was a little stressed after losing my mobile phone,” said Emily, a second year maths student at Edinburgh University. “But my training’s been going really well and I knew I was in good shape.”

Sarah Hood was third after the first leg in 15:35, and Jennifer MacLean promoted the Capital club to first in 15:38, leaving Emily to lead the field home despite sodden conditions: “I think because of my size (5ft 3in – 5ft-4in) I’m able to flit over the ground,” she smiled.

But perhaps even more surprising was the performance of her younger sister Louisa, who, in her first race since the East Championships last year due to injury, clocked 15:40 for Edinburgh’s B team. Emily, who had some injury problems last season, managed to improve all her personal best track times in the distance event, running 2:11.06 for 800m, 4:25.11 for 1500m and 9:30.88 for 3000m, all of which pleased her coach Ian Whyte, who previously guided Freya Murray.

Whyte believes that in the long term, Emily’s best event will be the 5000m, which makes Saturday’s Scottish National Short Course (4k) Cross Country Championship at Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park interesting as lining up against her will be Curran, Dix and former Edinburgh University No. 1 Rosie Smith (Hunter’s Bog Trotters), not forgetting sister Louisa.

But with Rosanna and Esme not involved that probably means a day off for their faithful taxi drivers Mum and Dad Rose and James, neither of whom have had any background in the sport but, according to coach Whyte, provide “strong family support.”

More influential in getting them interested in athletics was their school: “I was third in a race at Mary Erskine primary sports day and had not done any training for it and discovered that the first two had been running in cross-country races,” said Emily, who confirms that her parents have never put pressure on any of them to compete.

Even getting the Stewart quartet together for our photographer was tricky, given that the elder two were training with an Edinburgh University group at the Meadows, while the younger ones were at Meadowbank so the “taxi” was back in action.

This winter Emily, who is on an Edinburgh University scholarship and being put on a strength and conditioning programme, is also building up her mileage with a mixture of easy and hard runs.

The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014 are a possibility, while the 2018 Commonwealth Games, could almost be a target for all four running Stewarts.

London 2012 is very definitely in the sights of another Edinburgh AC member Lynsey Sharp, who was named Scottish Athlete of the Year and was one of several winners from the club which was named ‘Club of the Year’ at the annual Scottish Athletics Awards dinner in Glasgow.

The European Under-23 bronze medallist said: “I know I’m so close to the Olympics A standard for the 800 metres.” Tom Holligan, Commonwealth Yough Games 200m winner, shared Junior Athlete of the Year, while his coach Keith Ridley won ‘Performance Coach of the Year’ and Libby Clegg is ‘Disability Athlete of the Year’.

Long-time Meadowbank coach Bill Walker was deservedly given the award for Services to Coaching.