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Ian Beattie sees glimmers of hope for future as Scots athletes begin to reach their targets

WHEN Ian Beattie took over from former UK coaching director Frank Dick as chair of scottishathletics, I suggested it might prove to be a poisoned chalice.

Ian Beattie took over as chair of scottishathletics two years ago
Ian Beattie took over as chair of scottishathletics two years ago

Less than 27 months out from the Commonwealth Games, the omens were bleak, with a new director of coaching - the third in under two years - yet to take up office. Yet the four medals harvested from Glasgow 2014 confirm that club marathon and ultra-runner Beattie has succeeded where others with a stronger athletics background fell short. A glimmer of hope or false dawn? Beattie has no doubt it's the former.

Incontrovertible statistics we presented earlier this week showed a disturbing lack of Scots in the upper echelons of UK rankings. I suggested four medals should not blind us to concerns about the sport's overall health. This provoked a flood of data from the governing body, still smarting from an accusation by Dick that scottishathletics had "insufficient performance mindset".

Beattie was "discouraged competely" by that. "There's an absolute drive for perform, and a lack of acceptance we are going to be mediocre," he countered yesterday.

He professes no more than "satisfaction" at the Hampden medal haul: "I sat through all the athletics events and could not relax until Lynsey Sharp got that fourth medal . . . we needed to get that.Sportscotland are very supportive, and there's a good relationship but ultimately we don't want to be going in there trying to explain why we have not delivered on our target."

Funding negotiations and a full review in October could have meant funding cuts. "Sportscotland expect us to deliver, focused on medals, performances in finals, and so on."

Much is linked to participation numbers, which are not necessarily consistent with driving elite performance. Beattie spent six years on sportscotland's management board, four as vice chair, and insists the quango is far less driven by that compared to England, where heads have rolled in governing bodies perceived to have failed.

"I don't think sportscotland have moved as far down the participation line as England, where it's become the be-all and end-all," he adds.

Dick's resignation coincided with the failure of a single Scot to gain inclusion in Britain's World Indoor Championship team. That tide has turned. There are seven Scots at the current European Championship in Zurich, the same as last year's World event and one more than the 2012 Europeans where Lynsey Sharp won gold. "We knew it would be tough for Glasgow," says Beattie, "so I was very keen not to make excuses.

"We knew Glasgow was coming, and we had to focus on our target of more than two medals. We had to try to deliver on that. The fact that we did was satisfying, but we'd like to use that as a launch pad for more. There are some encouraging signs. There were a lot of younger athletes in that squad, with 29 of them 23 or less. The big challenge now is to develop them further. "

Two previous home Games were followed by inferior performances: 1970 (eight medals) with one in 1974; 1986 (six medals) with five in 1990. Beattie acknowledges the challenge is now to avert a repetition. Nothing less than four medals is likely to be acceptable in 2018.

The non-executive chair sings the praises of his full-time staff. Time was when there was a them-and-us attitude to the governing body. Demonstrably Club Together, an initiative launched in early 2012 is changing the face of the sport. Only adopted as yet by a minority of clubs, the effects are dramatic.

"Clubs are buying in more," insists Beattie, "and I am happy we now have a sport that's working much more closely together."

On the downside there's the loss of coaching director Stephen Maguire to UK Athletics, with no hint of a replacement. "Various discusions are going on but it's a key appointment," Beattie says. "It is hugely disappointing to lose Stephen, and we hope we can still benefit in some capacity from his experience. We need to get the right person. There is no point rushing into an appointment."

The sport likes to highlight six Scots in the top 12 at 1500m, three in the top five in the hammer and three in the top six at high jump. They are less comfortable with 17 sports where there's nobody at all in the top five, and men's and womens' 100m and 200m with with just a single Scot in the top 20. There were 16 in 1986.

"We're not happy with that. The sprints are on our agenda. Will we have a sub-10-seconds sprinter at the next Commonwealths? We'd both be very surprised but that doesn't mean we can't do significantly better.

"We must keep developing our clubs, continue developing coaches and working with the athletes. If we can do these properly, I am confident we can drive through performance."

It would be easy to dismiss Beattie's cautious optimism but, given the two-year turnaround achieved, it's worth persisting.

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