In what was undoubtedly one of the highest quality athletics events seen in Scotland, 18 Scottish all-comers records were set over the two days of the Sainsbury’s Grand Prix Diamond League meeting at Hampden Park at the weekend.
Many of them had survived a generation or more, dating back to the memorable European Cup finals at Meadowbank in 1973 and one even to the 1970 Commonwealth Games in the Capital.
That record belonged to the legendary Kenyan Kip Keino who had won the 1500 metres then in 3:36.6.
Astonishingly, the first 11 1500m athletes across the line on Saturday were inside that time in what for me was the outstanding race of the whole occasion.
Though the winner was probably always going to be another Kenyan, Silas Kiplagat, whose time of 3:32.84 was still some three seconds outside his best, the man who made it so exciting was a local hero Chris O’Hare (Edinburgh AC), who, after sitting right at the back of the 16-man field for the first two laps, worked his way forward and came up to challenge at the bell.
To the delight of the noisy 15,000 crowd, he was still there at the final bend as Kiplagat and the Moroccan runner-up Abdelaati Iguider surged and it was only in the final 50 metres that his legs started to go and Leonel Manzano (USA) and the South African Johan Cronje came past to snatch third and fourth.
O’Hare just held on to throw himself over the line for fifth in a Scottish Native record and personal best of 3:35.06 and, in an amazing finish, the next five runners came in en mass, all under 3:36.00 and led by O’Hare’s clubmate and Glasgow 2014 team-mate Jake Wightman who hacked six seconds off his best to clock 3:35.89.
For 23-year-old Peebles High FP O’Hare, who erased a record set by Graham Williamson at Meadowbank 31 years earlier, it must have been an enormous relief to discover that he could still reproduce the sort of form he had shown mostly in the USA where he was a student for several years.
“It’s been a really tough few weeks with hamstring (muscle) issues and to do a personal best at Hampden is amazing. But when you have four or five Africans in the field it’s set up for us to achieve PBs,” he said.
O’Hare also beat his great English rival and British champion Charlie Grice, who set a PB in ninth place.
European junior champion Wightman, a student at Loughborough University, celebrated his 20th birthday a day late but in some style as he too came from the back of the field: “I’ve been building up my endurance by running several rounds in championships – it’s a beautifully fast track and to get a PB is fantastic in a top quality field,” he said.
Friday, July 11 was already auspicious before race commentator Geoff Wightman’s son Jake came into the world as it was that day in 1924 that Eric Liddell had won his 400 metres gold medal at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.
So it was appropriate that Eilidh Child should choose that date to record her first Diamond League 400 metres hurdles victory after three third places in previous meetings and the only Scottish win.
Nailing her stride pattern exactly right, the 27-year-old Pitreavie club member was so delighted she was applauding herself coming over the line in a season’s best and second best ever of 54.39 secs. “My coach Malcolm Arnold told me that’s the best he’s ever seen me hurdle,” she revealed afterwards, refusing to accept that she was now a Glasgow 2014 medal favourite. “I’m still only ranked fourth in the Commonwealth,” she warned.
Equally, too much should not be read into the slightly sluggish efforts of the Scots pair Lynsey Sharp (EAC) and Laura Muir (Dundee) in the 800 metres, in which they finished sixth and ninth respectively, Sharp timed at 2:00.08, the second fastest time of her career, and Muir a season’s best of 2:02.92 in a race won by US champion Ajee Wilson in 1:59.68 with the top British runner Jess Judd third (2:00.01).