SCOTTISH athletics afficionados have whispered in conspiratorial tones for a while now about the talents of a 17-year-old sprinter called Alisha Rees, but the teenager may have blown her cover once and for all at the Scottish Senior athletics championships at the Emirates Arena on Saturday. This powerfully-built prodigy from Banchory, by way of Torphin, ended the day with two national titles to her name – in the 60m and 200m – running a PB of 7.51 seconds to land the former and taking the latter in a time of 24.18sec which shaved two hundredths of a second from Linsey MacDonald's Under-20 record which had stood for fully 35 years. Having brought a silver and a bronze medal back from the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa in 2015, Rees is now just .27 away from reaching the Commonwealth Games proper in the Gold Coast next April. She turns 19 the day after the closing ceremony but don't bet against it being a dual celebration.
With a name like Rees it will be perhaps be no surprise to find that this Banchory Academy pupil has some Welsh blood coursing through her veins. Her father hails from Llanelli and some of her team-mates might tease her about her accent from time to time but Rees is as Scottish as they come. "People say I’ve got an English accent and a Welsh last name but I do it all for Scotland," Rees said. "I’ve lived here all my life."
Athletics appears to be her true calling but the Welsh like their rugby and one look at the broad-shouldered Rees in action provokes the thought that perhaps had things gone differently she might be gearing up for the women's Six Nations right now. In fact, the teenager does have form for thundering down the wing - but on the football field rather than the rugby pitch. With echoes of Scottish women's football star Kim Little, also brought up in Aberdeenshire at Mintlaw, Rees put in some of the hard yards when playing among the boys at her secondary school football team.
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"I’ve always wanted to do rugby and I've always thought I’d be quite good at it," said Rees. "But I played football when I was younger and definitely when I was 13, 14, I considered it as my main sport. I liked being part of a team. I really liked playing with all my friends and I was quite good. I did play with boys. We had a Deeside girls squad who all came together. But there was a boys' team for S1 and S2 and I was always in the line-up for that. I liked getting it down the wing where I could sprint after it or shoot.
"But I was quite shy back then so while I really enjoyed it I never saw myself becoming good at it," she added. "Becca Flaherty was on my team and she’s now at Liverpool Ladies. And there were other people around me who wanted it. I was doing athletics at the same time so I wasn’t sure which to go for. But I love athletics and I love competing every weekend."
Two medals at the Commonwealth Youth Games, and a silver medal at the European Youth Championships in Tbilisi, Georgia, last year have helped this teenager shed whatever hang-ups she had. An individual medal, and perhaps a relay spot, at the European Juniors again this year is one goal, while making the Gold Coast qualification standard would top the lot. Scotland were unable to find a single sprinter, male or female, capable of competing at Glasgow 2014, but Rees hopes to thrive in the slipstream of British sprinting stars such as Dina Asher-Smith and Desiree Henry, even if some have already earmarked her potential should she move up to the 400m.
"I feel like I’ve grown more confident in the last year," said Rees. "When I was younger I was always so nervous with myself. But now I’ve got big international medals at age group championships, I’ve increased my confidence and I think: ‘I can do this, I am up there with anyone else in Europe.’ I don’t know about the world but I am up there now. It’s a confidence booster and being confident in myself has a positive effect on my performance.
"European juniors are my main target this year," she added. "Hopefully I get a medal in the individual race but also get in the British team for the relay and see if we can get in the medals there. I’ll focus on the 200m. the qualifying standard is out and it’s 20.8 but last year I ran 20.57 so it’s definitely within my range. I think I’ve got some good endurance. Starts aren’t my strong point and I’ve got long legs – everyone tells me I should go up to 400m but I’m not ready for that yet."
Another young Scot making waves at the Emirates Arena on Saturday was Heather Paton, the 20-year-old 60m hurdler whose time of 8.37secs was a new Scottish native record. Paton, based at the Birchfield Harriers club, is following in the footsteps of her father Billy McGinty, who played rugby league for Scotland, Great Britain, Warrington and Wigan. This was a stylish performance from a young athlete who works part-time at a hairdressing salon to pay the bills. Jemma Reekie, the training partner of Laura Muir, set another Scottish junior record as she finished second behind Mhairi Hendry in the 800m, while Olivia Vareille, the daughter of former Kilmarnock and Airdrie striker Jerome, was another impressive young winner on the day.