The 400 meter hurdles in Monaco was a fine race. Winning that race, in a PB, her first at the distance in two years, is Eilidh Doyle, who is one of a handful of athletes who will be battling for not only the final, but a possible medal in Rio. Such is the quality of the 400 meter hurdles in 2016, that 54 seconds or below will required, I believe, to make the final in Rio in less than one month. Here is Alex Mill’s piece on this remarkable athlete.
We are often left clinging onto those amazing Olympic memories, as the games disappear into the distance for another four years. Many complain about why it has to be ‘oh so long’ between each games that we learn of great athletic stories. As we get to within a month of the culmination of another quadrennial cycle, however, we are reminded of the importance of this period to an athlete’s development.
In Great Britain, there can be few greater examples of this transition than that of Eilidh Doyle. Only seventh in her semi-final at London 2012, Doyle (nee Child) is now in the form of her life, and sits on the cusp of Olympic glory. After three years of gradual development that has seen her reach two world championship finals and claim European and Commonwealth medals, Doyle has stepped it up a notch in 2016.
Competing in the stunning setting of the Monaco Diamond League, this weekend, the Scot cruised her way to a new personal best of 54.09 and another DL victory, looking a class above the rest of a field that included multiple world championship medalists. Gliding over the hurdles, Doyle let her rival, Cassandra Tate, running in lane 7, take the lead for the first 200m, as she gradually gained on her American opponent. By the time they came into the curve Doyle was clearly ahead and pulling away for a victory that now means she leads the DL standings.
So comfortable was her lead, that Doyle could even afford to stumble over the final hurdle and still win by half a second, a situation she probably would have deemed unimaginable in previous seasons. Speaking on her PB post race she said: “Thank god! I’ve been dying for one, my PB is from 2013 and everyone keeps reminding me of that so I’m just delighted to get one, but it wasn’t a great race for me, it was a bit messy.”
Though her previous PB may have been from 2013, the season in which she finished 5th at the world championships, Doyle is a different athlete to the one she was back then. Having never previously broken the top 3 at a DL until May 2016, the Scot kicked off her season with a surprise victory at the Doha DL and has continued to fly ever since, with her lowest performance of this season being a narrow third place finish in Rome.
It is a situation that she says has given her a lot of belief going into each race: “I’m confident, I wouldn’t say I go in expecting to win, but I do look at the start lists and think I’m just as good as anybody. In previous years I’ve probably looked and gone ‘oh, she’s in it’ or ‘she’s really good’ and they’re all excellent athletes but I see myself being on par with them now.”
Such is the degree to which the athlete’s mentality has altered, she was quick to point out the flaws in her most recent performance: “The fact that I can win that and not run a great race has given me a bit of confidence going into Rio. Hopefully I’ll run sub-54 when I get it right, that’s the plan.”
While the momentum from her performances this season offer one explanation for her progression, rather than put her development down to one single factor, Doyle believes her improvements in 2016 are due to a variety of elements: “It was just little things; I’ve stayed healthy, injury-free which is a big thing, I’ve been doing a bit more track sessions, I’ve had my husband down living with me and so I’ve not been travelling up and down to Scotland, so I think just a little bit of everything.”
Despite all her recent success, Doyle is refusing to talk of medals just yet: “I don’t think about medals I just think about running and executing my race.”
“If I run like that, I need to not afford to make those mistakes. Come Rio the girls won’t let me make mistakes, so I need to iron out a few errors. Hopefully, I can do that at London Anniversary Games next week, and get to the line safely in Rio. Then, if I’m in the final, I’d like to be competing for a medal.”
Nevertheless, as she heads into a potentially incredible second Olympic experience, Doyle knows just how much things have changed since she ran at her first: “I just feel like a totally different person, a totally different athlete and I’m in a much better position. It’s just great to have an Olympics and be in good shape and ready to compete and so I’m just really thankful that I’m healthy and injury free!”