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Toe be or not toe be? That was the question for Chris O'Hare

CHRIS O'HARE looks certain to become the first Scot to finish top of the annual United Kingdom rankings at 1500m since the Bellahouston Harrier Frank Clement did so in 1975.

Chris O'Hare, European bronze medallist, believes British athletes are not putting in the hours. Picture: PA
Chris O'Hare, European bronze medallist, believes British athletes are not putting in the hours. Picture: PA

Further commendation is his European Championship bronze in Zurich, the first at the distance by a UK athlete in 28 years. Yet the West Linton man achieved it despite having run with a broken bone in a big toe for most of the year. In sprint mode, it was extremely painful.

The diagnosis has just been confirmed by an X-ray and scan which he declined to have earlier lest confirmation undermine him psychologically. "I kicked the stairs before the outdoor season even started, and it was niggling away," he said. When he dropped out of the Oslo Diamond League mile in June, his physio identified the toe as the cause of on-going hamstring problems. "I decided against an X-ray or scan because we knew the treatment would be time off. With the Commonwealths that wasn't an option, and I didn't want that overbearing confirmation.

"I had the X-ray and MRI done the other day by the Scottish Institute of Sport. The Europeans were always going to be my last race this season. It's not because of my injuries. It was just a case of finding a good point to shut the season down and rest.

"The results show a cracked sesamoid bone beside my big toe. There's bone marrow oedema - too much blood inside the bone - and it causes a lot of pain. There's nothing structurally wrong. They are little bones, half the size of a peanut. When I go up on my toes, push off into my stride, it's been a problem all season. I was favouring my foot, and it meant I was pulling my leg round instead of pushing off properly. Once we figured that out, it was a case of dealing with the pain and continuing to push off the big toe.

"I've already had two weeks off. I'd be resting anyway, and being forced to do it now is probably a good thing. I'll take another week, and then get back to non weight-bearing - cycling and swimming - to keep fitness up, then back to running a week or two after that. Though I did ride the bike the other day when Dominic, my younger brother, was doing a tempo run. I rode alongside, blocking him from the wind."

Life is about to change radically for the 23-year-old. He went to the University of Tulsa nearly five years ago, graduating in sports science and will move, with his fiancee, Meredith, to Boston in a few weeks, to team up with a new coach, Terence Mahon, who has made a dramatic impact on Lynsey Sharp, Scotland's European 800m silver medallist.

"I signed a contract with adidas in April and will train with Terence and the Boston Athletic Association high-performance group. There won't be major changes but I'll be working towards an indoor season and won't have the stress of having to race through a collegiate cross country season. Adidas pay my salary which enables me to train full time, officially, professionally."

His collegiate scholarship banned any kit deal, but his new contract even provided a bonus for his European medal. "Training will now be much more technical: more attention to weights, drills and strength and conditioning. There will be extra time to go above and beyond what I was doing in Tulsa. I did not do much weights, just basic stuff based around rehab from old injuries. It was fairly amateur in terms of the science. I think it will give me huge improvements by this time next year. When you have the time as a professional athlete, you need to be doing these things.

"I think this is where we have gone wrong of late in Britain. British athletes have not put a massive amount of hours in, whether that be in the gym for sure, but outside drills and agility, injury-prevention stuff. Terence is one of the best for that, and if you are motivated enough, dedicated enough, to put the time in, you will reap the benefits."

UK Sport will consider raising his support. Despite having been a Moscow world finalist last year - it ticks the box for their "Podium" funding - he was left a level below that, as was the then European 800m champion, Sharp. Both are now emphatically medal prospects for next year's Worlds in Beijing and the 2016 Olympics.

"Maybe after the European bronze they'll see me as a medal candidate, but I must make it 100% clear, no matter what level I'm on, I am massively grateful for it. It's a huge help and without it, my life would be pretty difficult. To be a full-time athlete, and do it the way I am, it would be very difficult.

"It was great to have the Scottish institute help with the X-ray and scan which I could not have afforded myself. The treatment, blood tests, and advice when I am at home or in Europe in the summer, is worth a lot.

"I could never complain about what I get from them. I made my decision to be based in the States knowing I would not be able to access a lot, being outside the country. But that's fine. I get medical support through the Boston Athletic Association. I am well taken care of."

Cerebral and thoughtful, O'Hare has opinions on most things, but remains single-minded and tunnel-visioned. "Ultimately, I would like to coach in the NCAA, but right now I'm focused on becoming the best runner I can be. My immediate concern is being a great athlete, not a great coach. But I am not going to forget anything that has got me to where I am."

In the week of Angel di Maria's British record £59.7m transfer, he puts reality for other sportsmen in perspective. "With the obscene amount footballers are paid, people forget why professional contracts for athletes exist. It's to provide enough so you don't have to work, and are able to train full time. I am lucky to be in that position.

"I think the state of football at the moment is shocking. The top guys are doing a very good job and really working for their salary, but too many are getting paid a hell of a lot to be prima donna, lazy so and sos. . . it's shocking. They shouldn't be paid as much when people saving lives and risking their lives for their country are getting fractions of what they deserve.

"As a professional athlete, I think I'm lucky to be paid to do something I love so much. I can't complain about what they get in comparison to me, but I do have a gripe about what they are paid in comparison to nurses and soldiers."

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