Rodger Harkins believes the scramble to make Team Scotland for the next Commonwealth Games will raise help track and field standards domestically.
The qualification period for selection standards for Gold Coast 2018 opened at the start of 2017 and a number of athletes are already hitting their stride.
Harkins, Performance Director with governing body Scottish Athletics, will lead the track, field and marathon squad in Australia in April next year and is confident Scotland will have a very strong team Down Under.
Selection standards have been based around the potential to finish in the top six in each event – raising the bar from a top eight performance which was sought in the countdown to Glasgow 2014.
And while that will mean reduced numbers in terms of athletes, Harkins believes a ‘leaner’ Team Scotland should have more medal contenders at Gold Coast 2018.
‘We’re now just over a year away from Gold Coast 2018 and it is always exciting at this stage in the cycle for each Commonwealth Games,’ said Rodger, who has coached athletes to every Games since 1986 and guided Lee McConnell to Olympic selection with GB three times.
‘The selection period is open for most of the rest of the year and that means opportunities for athletes to put themselves into contention for selection.
‘So many Scottish athletes have stepped up over the past 18 months or so that we’ve more than a few now who are performing at what I would call a global level - we saw that with the big representations in Team GB and NI for the Olympics in Rio and in the recent Indoor Season at the British Champs and the European Champs.
‘A Commonwealth Games in the southern hemisphere at that time of the year – normally it could be difficult to prepare for. But I’m seeing quite a few indications from athletes in various recent performances out of kilter from the ‘normal’ track and field season to give me an awful lot of encouragement for next April.’
Callum Hawkins is one of a number of athletes hitting superb form already, and the man who set a Scottish Half Marathon Record in Japan last month is headed for the New York Half Marathon this weekend – weather permitting – as part of his preparations for the marathon at London 2017 and Gold Coast 2018.
A whole string of other top performers offer genuine hope of success in Australia.
But making the team could prove really tough in some disciplines, like the Men’s 1500m – where youngster Josh Kerr won the NCAA Indoor title in Texas last weekend to stun American athletics audiences yet will face severe competition from Chris O’Hare, Jake Wightman and Neil Gourley.
'The standards being asked for in order to be in the frame for selection are higher this time around than they were for Hampden three years ago,’ added Harkins, in a special interview with PB magazine, which is issued to 12,500 members of Scottish Athletics.
'Glasgow 2014 was an exceptional circumstance in many ways – selection then, and I am talking across all sports, was based on the potential to finish in a top eight place. That was based on the results from the three previous three Commonwealth Games.
'This time, for Gold Coast, the Commonwealth Games Scotland General Selection Policy is looking for the potential for a top six finish. As I say, that is across all sports and those are the parameters we need to work within.
‘Inevitably, that is going to mean there is a real fight on for places in Australia. It is going to be tough to get on the team but what I would say is that those selection standards will drive up performances – and that’s good for our sport.
‘Effectively, those that make it will be real contenders for the podium or the final in their events and I think I can safely say – even at this distance – that Scotland will have a very strong team.
'The other point that is important for athletes and coaches with ambitions of being selected is the level of Competition required for qualifying standards to be accepted Permit Level 3 and above.
‘The Selection Policy states that it is the responsibility of athletes and coaches to be aware of this and ensure the competitions they are taking part in are of the appropriate level.
‘Opportunities coming up soon include Loughborough, the District Champs in Scotland and the British Champs. Later on, you have the Manchester International and then the Scottish Seniors. That’s just naming five opportunities off the top of my head and there will be plenty of others.’
*Scottish Athletics President, Leslie Roy, will be one of the General Team Managers with Commonwealth Games Scotland for the Gold Coast 2018 Games.
Leslie has Games management experience stretching back to 2002 and, leading on transport and logistics, will carry out a similar role to her responsibilities at Glasgow 2014.
‘I am absolutely delighted and privileged to once again be part of Team Scotland’s General Team Management and I am looking forward to the challenges and experiences that the Gold Coast will bring,’
‘This will be my fifth Commonwealth Games and it is something very special and rewarding to be able to help athletes achieve their goals at a Games. I visited the Gold Coast in October 2016 and the venues look absolutely superb.’