Olympian Andy Butchart has entered the legacy debate by insisting star Scottish athletes and big events are having an effect on the sport as a whole.
The man who finished sixth in the 5000m final at the Rio Olympics and eighth at the London 2017 World Champs is headed for Slovakia for this weekend’s Euro Cross with Team GB and NI.
It means the Central AC athlete misses out on the Lindsays East District XC on Saturday over a Livingston course where he was a runaway winner two years ago.
But Butchart 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.
‘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.
‘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.’
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,’ he insisted.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.’
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.
‘It feels as if there has been less of a build-up to the Euro Cross and less of a focus on me – and that’s fine,’ said Butchart.
‘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.’
Meanwhile, former First Minister Jack McConnell has been speaking about his appointment as Honorary President of scottishathletics.
‘I can’t think of a better time to be taking up a role supporting scottishathletics,’ he said.
‘It’s such an exciting time with more world-class competitors than we’ve had for decades and there’s also a renewal of activity at the club level across Scotland so those two things together make it the perfect time.
‘I’ve been an athletics supporter and attender for a long time, and that actually goes for all sports. I’m a sports enthusiast and I like watching so many sports.
‘As a public figure over the years, I’ve felt strongly that it was important to keep sport at the centre of public policy and not just at the margins. I think it’s vital to see it not just as a voluntary activity or a private activity to recognise just how important it is.’