Injury fear for New Year Sprint winner Ben Robbins

Ben Robbins celebrates last year (Pic: Ian Georgeson). Gemma Nicol, below

Ben Robbins celebrates last year (Pic: Ian Georgeson). Gemma Nicol, below

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A foot injury sustained playing rugby has thrown a doubt over whether Ben Robbins (Edinburgh AC) will be able to defend his New Year Sprint title at Musselburgh Racecourse on December 31 and January 1.

The 16-year-old George Watson’s pupil was selected in heat two of the ten heats when the draw was made at the racecourse yesterday for the famous professional handicap which again carries a first prize of £4000. Robbins, with a handicap of four metres, will give away starts of up to 15.5 metres in his heat.

His coach, Dave Goodall, said: “Ben’s toe is still causing concern and he will visit a podiatrist. Defending his title is still very much in the balance.”

If he does run perhaps Robbins’ biggest threat in that heat could be 17-year-old school pupil Jessie Concannan from Dunfermline who is off 18 metres and is actually coached by last year’s third-place finisher, Gemma Nicol (Dunfermline). Concannan, who has represented Scottish Schools, has best times of 12.70 for 100 metres and 25.39 for 200m indoors.

It would be ironic if, after years of striving to become the first female winner of the 144-year-old race, Gemma Nicol ended up coaching the first winner rather than achieving that distinction herself.

Nicol, drawn in heat three with a starting handicap of 15.5m, is understandably trying to secure her place in the Glasgow 2014 team for her third Commonwealth Games and has been warned by her coach Piotr Haczek “only run if you are going to win.”

Two former winners, Cumbie Bowers (Glenrothes, 7.25m) and Eric Smart (Whitley Bay, 16m) are in her heat as is another female hope, Birnam Games winner Megan Shiel (Hawick, 21.5m) and second back marker, Heriot-Watt University student Sam Revie (Edinburgh AC). Gemma’s mother Wendy Nicol (Dunfermline), who has also gone close in the past, confirmed that “ the money would come in handy if Gemma won” as her daughter is due to get married next September and has little or no athletics funding at present.

There are lots of young female contenders in what is a very young entry this time, including the previous runner-up Fiona Cleat (EAC) off 19.5m in Robbins’ heat.

Another strong contender must be Katie Purves (EAC), who has just turned 17, and who has a best of 26.03 seconds for 200m, and a 300m hurdles best of 42.66 secs. She is in heat nine off 19m, while Lasswade long jumper Rachel Robertson, who is coached by John Scott and is off 20m in heat six, is another to watch.

The back-marker and favourite is Liberton High School’s Morro Bajo (EAC) who is in heat four off 2.75m where among his opponents is Wallace McGowan (Sauchie) off 15.5m.