Stacey Downie sets sights on being first lady

Dylan Ali, winner in 2014, will be out to defend his New Year Sprint title. Stacey Downie and Gemma Nicol are pictured below
Dylan Ali, winner in 2014, will be out to defend his New Year Sprint title. Stacey Downie and Gemma Nicol are pictured below
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Former Scottish 100 and 200 metres champion Stacey Downie (Edinburgh AC) believes she has all the credentials to make history and become the first woman to win the annual New Year Professional Sprint.

The 146th version of the Sprint will be contested at Musselburgh Race Course this week.

But if she cannot capture the £4000 first prize then the 27-year-old Peebles High former pupil hopes it will be one of the 20 or so female runners who make up nearly a fifth of the entry this year.

“If I can’t win – and I think I’d have had a great chance if I’d had another metre of a start, then I’d prefer someone like Gemma Nicol to win,” said the popular PE teacher who started work at her old school in August.

Five times a New Year Sprint entrant, she first entered at 16 when she trained with Charlie Russell (Innerleithen). “Charlie would be thrilled if I managed to win,” said Downie, who has been allocated a start of 17.5 metres, exactly the same mark as 27-year-old Nicol, (Dunfermline) who has been running in the event for over a decade and has six times reached the final and was runner-up in 2006.

“She’s kind of earned it,” admitted Downie, who however will be trying no less hard to beat the three-time Scottish Commonwealth Games rep should they meet in the later stages.

Teasing each other recently in good-natured Facebook exchanges, both admit to extra motivation and Nicol, who is due to marry next September, could certainly use the money.

Her omission from the list of names so far released for the Scottish 4 x 400m squad for the big Emirates indoor match in Glasgow on January 24 may also have played a part.

But Downie’s drive may still be stronger. “I was gutted not to make the Commonwealth Games, the qualifying standard for the 200 metres was ridiculous, but I’m going to use that as my motivation,” she insisted.

Following the unfortunate illness of another former coach, Downie, a UK under-23 champion in 2008 whose form had dipped drastically from her best season of 2011, has returned to EAC head coach Bill Walker for guidance.

He has completely changed her training, stopping weights and concentrating on warm-up drills and other exercises.

The results have been encouraging to say the least and Downie believes she is almost back to her best of 2011.

“I’m still training mainly for the 400 metres but I know how to run on the grass at New Year,” she said.

Other female hopefuls include Vicky Stephen (Dunfermline), who is coached by Eric Simpson and is off 23 metres in heat one, Angela Kelly (Giffnock), off a big start of 29.5m in heat four, Martha Douglas (Jedforest) and Rachel Robertson off 23m and 21m in heat five, Laura McCracken (Glasgow) and Jessie Concannon (Dunfermline) off 18.5m and 19.75m in heat seven and Amy Clancy (Peebles) off 20.5m in heat ten.

Weather permitting, and with rising temperatures forecast the omens are good, the heats of the 110 metres handicap will take place tomorrow at 11.25am, (after the Youths Sprint heats at 11am), with the semi-finals and final slotted in between the horse races at Thursday’s National Hunt Meeting.

The first semi-final is scheduled for 12.25pm with the final down for 2.09pm.