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Child finds renewed hope after failing on a technicality

IF Eilidh Child can overcome one technical fault, "she will win a World Championship medal".

Eilidh Child: resolving stride-patterns could lead to quantum leap for hurdler
Eilidh Child: resolving stride-patterns could lead to quantum leap for hurdler

That's the verdict of Malcolm Arnold, the iconic coach who steered Colin Jackson to 10 World and European gold medals and a world record at 110m hurdles, and John Akii-Bua to Olympic gold and a world best at 400m hurdles.

Already Arnold has helped former Perth physical education teacher Child graduate from Olympic also-ran to World finalist at 400m hurdles, and European medallist on the flat, but if he can resolve the problem which denied her a medal in Moscow last year, then Commonwealth and European honours this year may be little short of a formality.

Indeed, with Perri Shakes-Drayton (last year's Commonwealth No.1) sidelined by injury, Child ranks fastest of the Glasgow contenders. She describes her rival's absence as "bitter-sweet", adding: "I wish she was racing." It will confer poster-girl status akin to that which burdened Jessica Ennis before London 2012, but Child's team includes a sports psychologist to help her handle the weight of expectation.

Child captains Scotland on their historic first appearance today in a capacity Sainsbury's International at the Emirates - against GB, USA, and a Commonwealth Select - and the importance she places on pressure-coping strategy was highlighted by the fact her team talk last night centred on advising colleagues on the matter.

A 2014 medal may be the least of this year's honours. Child has targeted a 400m final place at the World Indoor Championships in Poland, in March, "and hopefully a relay medal", plus hurdles success at the European Championships in Zurich just 11 days after her last run in Glasgow.

She believes World disappointment can launch her to greater glory. Zuzana Hejnová (52.83) claimed World gold in Moscow, with Child (54.86) fifth. Bronze went to American Lashinda Demus in 54.27. Shakes-Drayton was seventh, and the only other Commonwealth athlete was eighth. Child will again face Hejnová at the Europeans on the back of four Commonwealth races in five days. Undaunted at the prospect, she says: "It's just about being sensible. I think the adrenaline will get me through."

The Czech, Hejnová, is less than a fifth of a second faster than Child on the flat, yet more than two seconds quicker over the barriers, hence Arnold's frustration. Amid any criticism, though, his praise is unstinting. "There will be a big focus on Eilidh in Glasgow with the Games being at home," acknowledged Arnold, speaking from Stellenbosch where the pair have been training. "I wish every athlete was like her - she is a sensible, level-headed, intelligent young lass. She will cope well.

"There is a technical limitation we have to sort. As far as I'm concerned, she threw a medal away last year at the Worlds at the back end of the race - putting in extra strides between hurdles rather than continuing the correct pattern. She can do it in training and, if she achieves this in races, she will win a world medal and not fifth place. In the pressure of the World final, it fell apart a bit."

A flaw which becomes manifest only on the cusp of exhaustion is hard to address, but Child takes Arnold's reproach on the chin. "I agree. If I'd done everything right I'd have won a medal, but others also made mistakes. If we'd all run to our potential, maybe I would not. That's championships. At least Malcolm didn't make me stand on a chair and sing the National Anthem, as he threatened if I did not get a medal."

She explains how she will move on: "In 2012, I was inconsistent, but last year I'd some good races back to back. This year it's about becoming more consistent. Fifth in the Worlds means I can get into better races, more Diamond League events. So I will be in pressure situations more often. Hopefully, when it comes to Commonwealth and European Championships, I will feel there's no difference between them and races I've run already this season. Racing the best girls week-in, week-out, should help make all my races technically sound."

She anticipates enormous pressure. "I've been surrounding myself with good people," she said. "I have Malcolm when I'm training in Bath, and can switch off there. In Scotland I have Brian [Doyle, her boyfriend and former international sprinter] and my family who are good for keeping me grounded.

"I've worked with a sports psychologist, Mike Cunningham, since last year. We talk on Skype. He's very much about only being able to influence things I can control. So I never visualise winning a gold medal, because I can't control that, or what anyone else does. If I execute my race right, hopefully that will be enough to either win or get a medal.

"People want to put a medal round your neck before you run, but in sport, anything can happen. I try not to go on Twitter or Facebook, but attention is already kicking off and it will get more intense. At the moment I feel quite comfortable and just trying to enjoy it. At the Olympics I didn't do that. I let it overwhelm me and didn't enjoy the whole experience. I want to look back on Glasgow with fond memories, however I run.

"In London I could not relax, and did not want to talk about it. I was negative about my athletics afterwards. When people said the Olympics were amazing, I felt I was having to lie about it. Chatting to my sports psychologist, I can now look back and it was fine, but at the time I was anxious, nervous, and disappointed. I didn't want to watch my races, analyse, or learn. Now I can. I don't want to feel that in Glasgow. I want to enjoy it and have fun and, if I do, I will perform well."

Child is "proud and honoured to be captain" today, and drew on her Olympic experience for her team speech, urging colleagues to enjoy the event and not feel about Glasgow as she did about London 2012.

Best of today's opponents is Francena McCorory, sixth in last year's World final and a member of the 2012 US Olympic gold-medal relay squad. The Commonwealth has Regina George, fourth fastest in the world last year, while GB field Victoria Ohuruogu, sister of World champion Christine.

Child, ranked eighth in the world last year (51.45) just 0.40 behind Nigeria's George, plays down her hopes, having had to ease off last month with a minor calf problem.

"I don't think it set me back much, but I'll not worry about getting demolished," she said. "Last year I opened with 52.8 and finished with 51.3, so a lot can happen through the season. I just want to be competitive, ignore times, and have a good run. There will be a bit of argy-bargy to get to the break [at 200 metres]. I want to get in amongst that."

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