© Copyright – 2022 – Athletics Illustrated

Long gone are the Pythian Games of ancient Greece founded during the Roman-dominant sixth century in honour of the cultural god Apollo. But the iconic laurel wreath awarded to the winners lives on, at least in metaphor.

In the past too is the athletics career of Scottish runner Liz McColgan, who won gold medals and set national records during the 1980s and 1990s. She is the mother and coach of modern-day Scottish running hero Eilish McColgan, who has taken nearly every single record her mother set during those heady times.

Fast forward to 2022 and the younger McColgan is not resting on those proverbial laurels. Most recently was the 10,000-metre gold medal that she won during the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games one week ago. It was her first global championships win.

McColgan also competed in the 2022 Eugene World Athletics Championships. In Eugene, she fell a little short of her goals, finishing in ninth place and over a minute back of winner Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands.

Next up is the 2022 Munich European Athletics Championships, starting August 11.

But about that Birmingham 10,000m…

It was a stunning performance.

For those who witnessed the race, they know that McColgan dug deep, held strong and during the business end of it, buried her Kenyan rival Irene Cheptai with a big final kick.

Asked about going deep, McColgan told Athletics Illustrated, “The crowd and noise in the stadium is what really helped me over that final mile. Before the race, my boyfriend had said to me to cover all gaps — no matter how tired I felt — because he felt the crowd would give me that extra push over the final bit. And that’s exactly what happened. I grew with confidence on every lap, knowing that I was still in contention for a medal.”

Cheptai hasn’t been resting on her laurels either. Her accomplishments are international to be sure. She finished sixth in the Tokyo Olympic Games 10,000m in the time of 30:44.00. The 30-year-old won the Kololo World Cross Country Championships in 2017. In Bengaluru, India, she set her personal best in the 10K at 30:35 in May this year.

Both athletes have had strong years. McColgan set a new personal best in the 10,000m in June at 30:19.02. Back in April, on the roads in Milan, the 31-year-old clocked a Scottish national 5K record of 14:45. In February, she set a new national record in the half-marathon event in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates with a 66:26 performance.

She now holds 10 Scottish records and the British 5000m record of 14:28.55, which she set last year, improving upon Paula Radcliffe’s time of 14:29.11 from 2004.

Asked if she was surprised by dropping Cheptai so strongly over the final metres, McColgan said, “I was surprised because I know how strong a competitor Cheptai is. She beat (Helen) Obiri earlier in the year over a road 10K and is a World Cross Country Champ. She is incredibly strong so my hope was that I could stick with it whenever she made the move and hopefully find enough speed over the final 200m. I feel I have a good kick, but I need to be in the mix to use it.”

Perhaps being out of contention in Tokyo, left her to finish strong, but just not in position to benefit from the big kick. Hassan clocked a 29:55.32 performance for the win. Only Bahraini Kalkidan Gezahegne (29:56.18) stood any chance. Even Letesenbet Gidey, the Ethiopian who currently holds four world records was dropped hard on the final bend. Gidey was left trailing by five seconds once it was all over.

In Birmingham, McColgan and Cheptai were neck and neck for the final mile. Neither were giving a step to each other. It was not until that final 50m where McColgan — with the crowd at her back — finally had an opportunity to unleash her powerful kick during a global championship race.

And more of the not resting on laurels talk, she will debut in the marathon in London this fall. But first, there is unfinished business with the European Championships, “I’ll be doing both the 10,000m and 5000m in Munich!”

Onto the marathon

She may have waited a little longer than anticipated to tackle the marathon, originally planning after Tokyo, but she sure is showing a level of fitness that puts her in good stead for London.

Her mother owns a best of 2:26:52 from April 1997 in London. Expect that performance to be bettered. A debut marathon can be about just getting the experience in, but if anyone can take down Liz’s time it is Eilish. And the national record is marginally faster at 2:25:40 by Stephanie Twell from the 2019 running of the Frankfurt Marathon.

“I’ll definitely be looking to run the marathon. I feel like that will be a great place to move on into something a little different and to challenge myself in new ways!” z

McColgan will make the debut on Saturday, Oct. 1 in London.

She also hopes to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games marathon.

McColgan still has more goals to achieve in following her mother’s footsteps. Time performances aside, Liz won silver during the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games 10,000m. She won the New York City, Tokyo and London Marathons as well as eight other global championship medals.

But Eilish is on the right path to being a marathon laureate on the heels of her string of outstanding 2022 performances.