David Bishop, who makes his senior debut tomorrow in the Loughborough International, has moved to fifth in the all-time 1500 metres rankings, immediately behind former World Indoor silver medallist David Strang. Bishop's time, 3min 37.51sec, is the fastest by a Scot for almost 18 years. It was achieved at Stanford on April 29, and in the same race Tulsa-based Chris O'Hare was just behind in 3:37.95, seventh on the Scottish all-time list.
Yet Bishop is one up on the illustrious quartet from the golden era of Scottish middle distance running who precede him, for he has won in the London Olympic stadium. He took the British Universities 3000m title in the test event this month.
If he allowed himself a brief fantasy after that win, then at least there is some realism to the dream. His time in California was the second best by a Brit this year (behind Olympic and Word finalist Andy Baddeley, who won the race). Only Baddeley has the Olympic A standard, while Bishop and O'Hare are the only other Brits inside the B standard. The Scots are also the only others with the qualifying mark for the European Championships.
Strang won World indoor silver in Toronto (1993); Frank Clement, third on the all-time list, was Europa Cup champion and fifth in the Montreal Olympic final (1976); the second-fastest Scot, Graham Williamson, was World junior record holder and World Student Games champion in Mexico City (1979), while John Robson, at the top of the list, was Commonwealth and European indoor bronze medallist (Edmonton 1978 and Vienna 1979).
"I was threatening to run this quick a couple of years ago, so it's good finally to nail it," said Bishop. "The goal is the Olympics, but if I am unlucky, then the Europeans in Helsinki would be a good consolation prize."
The Olympic A standard is 3:35.50, so he has two seconds to find. That's a big leap at this level, but he believes it's possible, given that this is his first year as a full-time athlete. The 25-year-old got a throat infection when he was in the shape of his life two seasons ago, the kind of information which does not feature in an increasingly statistics-driven sport. Such lists also don't show some esoteric US events, nor how races are run. But 3:54 for 1600m in a middle distance relay gave a hint, and another came from 3:40 for 1500m at the Mount San Antonio College Relays – 2.03 for the first 800, but 1:52 for the closing two laps. That demonstrates the pace which wins races and, as he says, "It was frustrating to have no recognition for that relay."
Bishop took a degree in sport and exercise science at the University of Wales in Cardiff, and graduated with a masters in sports administration from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque a year ago. "Since then I have been working as a volunteer coach at the university," he said. "It's the ideal environment, at altitude, but there is no money in full-time athletics at my level, so I've a had a lot of help from my parents. I have been e-mailing companies, to see if I can get any sponsorship. I'm not ready to pack it in, but I can't go on depending on them."
He has paid his dues over the years, making steady progress. "I knew I was quite quick, playing football, but I was in secondary before I discovered I could run, doing cross-country. So my dad took me to Swindon athletic club."
He won the indoor under-17 1500m title the only time he contested a Scottish track championship, and was fourth in the English Schools 3000m as an intermediate boy. He also won the AAA Indoor 3000m title at under-17, and the under-20 AAA 3000m title in 2004 and 2006, as well as the British student title at the same distance indoors in 2007. He has represented Scotland at under-20 and under-23 – the latter on road, track and cross country – but when he races the 800m at Loughborough tomorrow it will be his first senior appearance in the dark blue. His only British vest came at the World Student Games last year in China, where he finished seventh in the final.
His mum, Helen, is from Easterhouse, and dad, John, is from Burnside. "But I was born in Germany, where dad worked with the European Space Agency. He has a Phd in chemistry, but was helping put satellites into space. We moved to Chippenham, in Wiltshire when I was about five, but I have 100% Scottish blood in my veins.
"I'd never have considered running for England, even though I was a laughing stock at school, apart from 1998, when Scotland made a decent show against Brazil. I had to put up with a bunch of sh*t from my mates for Scotland being lousy. Of course, I told them that I was the lucky one. If England were in a tournament with 32 teams, telling everyone they could be world champions, I'd tell them they had only one team to support, while I had 31."
His coach, Welsh internationalist James Thie, was good enough to finish fourth and sixth in two World Indoor finals, and made European and Commonwealth finals, most recently Delhi, in 2010. "It means I can still do some of the sessions with Dave," said Thie. "I hope to make the final at the Olympic trials. And if I do, I will act as a pace-maker for Dave."
Bishop reckons the Olympics are attainable. "I only vaguely remember Sydney, but was inspired by Kelly Holmes doing the double in Athens, and Hicham El Guerrouj doing the 1500/5000 double there. I pictured myself doing an Olympic double. Well, I will be 25 in London. I hope to be there, and make the final."
He runs the 800m tomorrow, and is convinced he is ready for a breakthrough at the shorter distance. "I have yet to break 1:50, but in the right race and decent conditions, I'd hope at least to go under 1:49."
Loughborough host tomorrow's match against Scotland, England, Wales, GB Juniors, and a British Universities team which includes six Scots.
All-time Scottish rankings at 1500m
3:33.83 John Robson Sept 1979
3:34.01 Graham Williamson June 1983
3:35.66 Frank Clement Aug 1978
3:36.53 David Strang July 1994
3:37.51 David Bishop Apr 2012
3:37.75 Jon McCallum Aug 2000
3:37.95 Chris O'Hare Apr 2012
3:38.08 Tom Hanlon June 1992
3:38.22 Peter Stewart July 1972
3:38.66 Glen Stewart May 1996
Data courtesy of Scottish Association of Track Statisticians