Olympian Andy Butchart insists star Scottish athletes and big events are having an effect on the sport as a whole.
Butchart, who has broken national track records held by Nat Muir since the 1980s, is in the vanguard of Scottish athletes who have made an impression at global level in the past couple of years alongside the likes of Eilidh Doyle, Lynsey Sharp, Laura Muir, Chris O’Hare, Callum Hawkins and Eilish McColgan.
“I think the sport in Scotland is being inspired and motivated by performances at the top level and by big events in the UK like Glasgow 2014 and London 2017,” Butchart said. “Now we have the Commonwealth Games looming up again at Gold Coast and then European Championships in Berlin and the European Indoors in Glasgow early in 2019. So there’s plenty to be excited about.
“Young athletes at clubs are being inspired and getting out there and competing. That’s the feedback I’m getting on school visits and so on.”
The man who finished sixth in the 5000m final the Rio Olympics and eighth at the World Championships in London this year is headed for Slovakia for this weekend’s European Cross Country Championships. It means the Central AC athlete misses out on the Lindsays East District XC on Saturday where he was a runaway winner two years ago.
“I’m racing this weekend in the Euro Cross but I am actually gutted to miss out on the East District XC because I love the course there at Livingston,” said Butchart, who won the Scottish National XC title in 2015 and 2016. “I was speaking to Derek Easton, my former coach at Central AC, the other day and he was telling me how much everyone is looking forward to Saturday. That’s at the club and many other clubs.”
However, he is thrilled a record 2511 entries have been received for three domestic cross country events in Livingston (East), Irvine (West) and Gordonstoun (North) – the first time the 2500 barrier has been broken – as clubs and athletes are galvanised to compete more.
“There are massive numbers involved and for District XC events in December to attract over 2500 entries is great for the sport. I think people are realising that cross country is really good fun – and great for endurance training for the summer on the track, too.”
Looking to the future of Scottish athletics Butchart added: “I sometimes wonder what the numbers will be like in a couple of years if I can get back to the District XC – hopefully it will be 3000 entries or 4000 entries. We might need the East League (a regular winter XC competition for East clubs) to split into two. Why not?
“We’ve a great sport and talking it up definitely helps. Seeing the base of the pyramid as you call it getting bigger is really good for athletics in Scotland and we have to keep trying to promote events and urge people to compete.”
Butchart and Steph Twell lead a five-strong Scottish contingent representing GB at the Euro Cross in Samorin in Slovakia on Sunday. It is a first appearance at this event for Mhairi Maclennan at U23 level and Erin Wallace at U20 level. Cameron Boyek of Central AC races in the inaugural 4 x 1.5K Mixed Relay.
“Year after year for the Euro Cross, we seem to have another one or two new faces in terms of the Scots coming through and getting GB vests so that is another very positive marker on progress. You may see more at the Great Edinburgh XC,” he explains. “I was team captain in Chia last year for GB and very proud to do that and of course we came away with Senior Men’s team gold with Callum taking that bronze and myself in fourth. This time, I was fifth in the trial (at Liverpool) and there’s no way I’m happy about that!
“If the course in Slovakia turns out the way it looks and is a dry surface then I’d be really confident of doing pretty well; maybe even getting in medal contention again.”