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Why do UK Athletics continue to overlook record-breaking Scot?

IN spite of resurgent form this winter by Scotland's athletes, only Eilidh Child (400 metres and relay) and Laura Muir (1500m) were named by Britain for the European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg next month.

Chris O'Hare, white vest, on his way to breaking the collegiate mile record in a time of 3:52.98 on Saturday.
Chris O'Hare, white vest, on his way to breaking the collegiate mile record in a time of 3:52.98 on Saturday.

This left Chris O'Hare, third fastest in Europe over 1500m, sidelined for a second major championship in nine months. Only three men in the Great Britain team for Sweden (March 1-3) are ranked higher than the US-based student from Edinburgh.

UK Athletics say O'Hare's confirmation of availability arrived too late for Monday's selection meeting. The Tulsa student had rewritten the UK indoor mile and 1500m rankings at the Millrose Games in New York at 10pm on Saturday. His time of 3min. 52.98sec. relieved former world indoor silver medallist David Strang of the Scottish indoor record and is second fastest by a Briton behind Peter Elliott, Olympic silver medallist in 1988 and Commonwealth champion.

Timing was set up at 1500m where O'Hare's 3:37.25 removed the 31-year-old Scottish indoor metric mile record held by Lenzie's Graham Williamson (former world junior record holder) and is now fifth best by a Briton indoors.

This bright talent, just 22 and almost four seconds faster over 1500m than any other current Briton, would seem a certainty for the team. UKA did not even speak to him, relying on emails despite a six-hour time difference between Tulsa and their Birmingham headquarters.

With nobody selected for the 1500m, Peter Eriksson, UKA's recently appointed head coach, was specifically asked yesterday about the decision. "When we looked at the criteria we had to guide us through the whole process, nobody was in the running for top-six potential," he told a press conference.

Technically, this is correct, but it's disingenuous. On Sunday, UKA sent an email asking if O'Hare wished to be considered. "Chris spent all day travelling back to Tulsa on Sunday," said his father yesterday. "He communicated with UKA on Monday afternoon about 2pm US time, telling them he wished to be considered."

By then, however, the selection deadline had passed.

"Chris recognised this and is quite relaxed about it," said his father, with remarkable diplomacy. When initially informed that his son had been overlooked, he said: "That's unbelieveable."

Hours after Eriksson's comment, a UKA spokesperson told me O'Hare had not been selected because he did not compete in the trials and did not declare his interest or availability before the panel met on Monday.

"Peter didn't know his intentions, even in the week prior to the trials. Indeed, Chris didn't contact UKA to let the performance team know that even though he wasn't competing in trials because he was in the States, he was still interested in selection. As the team didn't receive his email until after the selection panel had convened, they were not aware of Chris' intention to travel to Gothenburg."

O'Hare was prepared to run in Sweden and defend his National Collegiate mile title in the US the following weekend – with the blessing of his college. His main objective is the world championships in Moscow this summer, and his university have completely relaxed outdoor demands to help him.

Chris, however, must wonder what he has to do. Last summer, two English rivals were chosen for the European Championships, despite not having run as fast as him, and a third, who had not raced over 1500m all year, was also preferred. O'Hare senior said then that his son felt "cruelly overlooked, and let down by the UK governing body."

Glasgow's Lee McConnell, a fixture in UK 4x400m squads, asked not to be considered, as did Edinburgh's Lynsey Sharp, the European outdoor silver medallist who qualified at 800m.

She does not wish a long indoor campaign to compromise Moscow this summer. Berwick's Guy Learmonth, who had the men's 800m standard, was overlooked in favour of Joe Thomas – despite having beaten the Welshman last weekend and running faster this year.

Crucially, Thomas, in the first two at the trial, had the qualifying time, so had to be selected.

However, Scottish athletics can take comfort from a remarkable rise in standards with the qualifying period for Glasgow 2014 opening on April 1.

There were nine medals (three gold) at the European trials in Sheffield, best since 1995 (10 medals). The class of '95 included wins from Mel Neef (400m), Grant Graham (1500m), and Geoff Parsons (high jump). Child and O'Hare have outperformed the first two, while 20-year-old Allan Smith is just one centimetre short of Parsons' winning height 18 years ago, setting a Scottish indoor native record of 2.23m.

Smith and hurdler Allan Scott competed in Birmingham last Saturday, and commendably competed at the Scottish Championships the next day in Glasgow but that was a step too far for seven others.

Scottishathletics were hamstrung by the clash. They might have anticipated converts attracted by last month's sell-out spectacular at the Emirates Arena to return but spectators could hardly feel other than short-changed. Momentum was lost.

Further, the governing body wishes to attract significant backers for major events, but the first priority is surely the ability to guarantee sponsors that the best athletes will compete? That's impossible if the national event is allowed to clash with a fixture certain to divert our best competitors.

Less than 18 months before a Commonwealth Games to be staged in Glasgow, even in these financially tough times, the sport should be able to attract a title sponsor for a national championship. Tiny support from McCain's was small chips.

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