Brian Donaldson, the Glasgow athletics development officer and pole vault coach, spent three days at Poland's national training centre in Spala with throws coaches Hugh Murray and Colin McCulloch, hurdles coach Brian Winning, and shot-putter Kirsty Yates.
It was facilitated by Piotr Haczek, former Scotland sprints coach and now head coach of the Polish Athletics Federation, and scottishathletics.
Spala is basic, designed for training and development across a range of sports. There is an indoor 200m track and an outdoor 400m one, plus an indoor 100m straight, and throws field. Athlete accommodation is integral.
It proved a Damascene experience. The commitment demanded of some 300 squad athletes (Poland is about six times the size of Scotland) was beyond what could be expected in this country. Polish athletes are expected to attend four out of five camps a year, each of 11 days.
The camp was for athletes from 17 to Olympic level, and included those expected to be in world or European junior and under-23 teams in the next few years.
The Scots were struck by the hosts' openness, allowing them into their Olympic camp so close to the games. Athletes included world pole vault champion Anna Rogowska, and Olympic discus silver medallist Piotr Malachowski.
Discipline was achieved with no sergeant majoring. There was not a sound at night. Yates, Scottish senior shot champion last year at 19, blogged on the Poles' "passion and correct mindset to develop further and work hard to achieve their personal goal. Every person was so focused. There were no distractions. Everyone realised they were there to train, not for the social side. Although it was clear everyone was enjoying themselves, there was no messing around."
Some of that needs to be introduced at Scottish club level, and reinforced.
"The focus is not just on being Polish champion, but to succeed at international level," said Donaldson yesterday. "We have good athletes and good coaches in Scotland, but need to challenge them to deliver. There is nothing comparable to Spala in Scotland, or Britain – or the critical mass to justify one. It would be cheaper to fly squads to Poland than establish a 'Spala' here, but Scotland certainly has athletes who would not be out of place there."
Athletics is among very few sports where, bluntly, somebody who is absolutely without talent, is still made welcome, and can attend a club as and when they feel like it.That is the sport's strength, but also its weakness.
Sports such as gymnastics and swimming often operate as a meritocracy. You are admitted only if good enough. Often these are feeder clubs to regional squads. Participants must always demonstrate a positive attitude towards training and competing. This level of prescription is largely absent in athletics. Dare we suggest it's one reason why Scottish swimming records improve more regularly than those in athletics?
The Poles don't look as if they do anything radically different from Scotland, but clearly do the same things differently, especially in development. We need to shift the sport's culture, greater focus on and respect for coaching, and education of more quality coaches. We would not suggest our best athletes lack a work ethic or discipline, but the fact we have so few at world level suggests not enough aspiring athletes have enough of such qualities.Scottishathletics must discard failed traditions and learn from elsewhere.
THE Olympic movement today announces candidates to host the 2020 Olympic Games. It will be surprising if these do not include Qatar, given their progress in female emancipation. They will have women in their Olympic team for the first time in London, leaving Saudi Arabia as the only nation to exclude them.
The Saudi Olympic Committee and its 29 sport governing bodies have no female sections. PE in state schools is only for boys. None of the country's 153 government-licensed sports clubs has a women's team.
This reflects Saudi women's second-class social status which denies them basic human rights while supporting male control of women's education, clothing, place of residence, marital options – indeed, every aspect of their lives. Sometimes on pain of death.
We recently viewed, courtesy of Memri TV which monitors and translates Arab and Farsi channels, an interview in which Saudi sports commentator Fahd Al-Raoughui stated "I would much rather have Allah slaughter me before I see that day [on which his countrywomen compete in the Olympics]. If a woman goes to the west, wears pants, mixes with strangers, practises sports, and exposes her nakedness we may turn ourselves into laughing stocks."
The IOC constitution demands equal rights for women. They should uphold it by excluding Saudi Arabia from the 2012 Olympics. Making a pariah of South Africa over apartheid worked. It might fail here because oil means more to the rest of the world than gold and diamonds did. Or because Saudi Arabia gives not a hoot about what the rest of the world thinks.