IT is now 14 years since Allan Scott won an unprecedented three British indoor athletics titles in two days – setting two Scottish records in the process – and eight seasons since he won both indoor and outdoor AAA hurdles titles.
But it is four years since he stunned the sport when, after having reached the World Indoor final, two European Indoor finals and contested the biggest race of the Beijing Olympics, he simply walked away.
He flirted with rugby before returning last year from self-imposed exile, but it was no fairytale. He finished the season ranked a modest 13th in Britain over 110 metres hurdles. Last weekend, however, he took silver in the 60m hurdles at the European Indoor trials and today he competes at the British Grand Prix in Birmingham.
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Scott is confident he can match the Glasgow 2014 standard (a modest 13.90 seconds for the 110m hurdles, compared to 13.70 for Delhi) but, despite having ranked sixth in the world over 60m hurdles in 2008, he is less confident of securing the 7.65 standard for the European Indoor Championships. He will be named as part of that team on Tuesday. "I'd like to think that my best is still ahead of me," he says. "But the sport has moved on while I have been away."
The UK standard for the World Championships in Moscow this summer (13.40) is 0.13 faster than Scott has ever managed. Thus far, however, only Andrew Pozzi has achieved the European standard for Gothenburg next month. "I think I have sub 7.70 in me, so I'm not a mile away," says Scott. "If it is 7.65, all the better."
Scott reached the World Indoor final in 2008 with 7.52, a time which is still the Scottish record. He beat three-times world champion and former Olympic champion Allen Johnson in his semi-final, while the favourite, Dayron Robles – boasting six of the seven best times that year – failed to reach the final. But Scott lost his focus during a 10-minute delay before that final and the chance of a lifetime was lost. He finished sixth as China's Liu Xiang took gold ahead of Johnson.
His disappointment was only exacerbated by the fact that his semi-final time would have won silver. "I recall it vividly – a missed opportunity," he says. "I was supremely confident, focused, and ready to run. I believed I could pick up a medal, but in those minutes before the final the wrong thoughts crept into my head. I came out of the blocks too low, was never comfortable, and hit the fourth hurdle."
In Beijing later that year, Scott was drawn in the same heat as defending Olympic champion Liu. The Bird's Nest was packed to 91,000 capacity to see the host nation's most iconic athlete. "I walked out with Liu just in front of me – the home town favourite. The atmosphere could not have been more intense," said Scott.
"It was like a scene from Gladiator, walking into that stadium. I lost it, and for a moment my legs turned to jelly. I'd been waiting my whole life for this moment, and was determined to enjoy it. So I stopped for a second, took a deep breath, and looked around the whole stadium – took it all in, and calmed down. I had learned from that experience in Valencia. I knew I would be okay."
Scott was so focused that he was oblivious to the most intense drama of those Games. After a false start, a nation wept as Liu withdrew, limping from the arena. "We were six lanes apart and only when I looked at the scoreboard afterwards, and saw I was an automatic qualifier for the semis, did I realise his name was missing," he says.
Scott came within two hundredths of his best in the semi but narrowly failed to reach the final. Then it all unravelled. He reached his second European Indoor final in 2009 but finished last, and quit after just four races early in the summer.
"They had taken away my funding and I had dedicated the last four years of my life to it," he says. "I thought: 'I'm not going to be able to do it full-time – so can I be any better than I am? I'm sure I can remain at this level and go another four-year cycle, but can I step it up again?' I didn't know if I could. It was part that, and part not wanting to get into my 30s and have done nothing but run for the last 10 years.
"My thinking was very much all-or-nothing and not that I could do both. Probably, in hindsight, it would have been better not to do it, but the way my head was at the time, I needed to get away. I just wasn't enjoying it."
He consulted with the Scottish Institute of Sport and tried rugby. "I never went into it properly, though I enjoyed it, and I trained at Murrayfield Wanderers and with the academy boys, some of whom are now in the national squad," he says. "Eventually I realised how much I missed athletics – competition and training – how much I'd enjoyed that."
However, 30 months had since passed between his last race and his comeback one. "I did not think I'd long enough to make it back for the Olympics but the Commonwealths in my home city is a big goal, a nice place to finish, something worth working towards," he says.
Scott has a sports studies degree and did a post-graduate teaching qualification. He is now studying part-time for a masters in strength and conditioning while coaching at SIS, and teaching at Edinburgh University. "It's all pretty flexible, allowing me to train."
Brought up in East Kilbride, Scott was arguably the most talented Scottish athlete of his generation, winning the AAA under-17 long jump, triple jump, and 60m hurdles titles 14 years ago this month. He still holds the Scottish triple jump record at under-15, the under-17 long jump best and has also added the senior national and native records at 60m hurdles.
Stuart Hogg, his coach, hopes his protege's best performances are still to come. "I would not be coaching him if I did not believe that was possible," he said succinctly.
Eight Scots have been invited to compete in Birmingham today, which is the best representation in such a meeting for many years. It is just the atmosphere to keep Scott's juices flowing.