THE corona-enforced break appears to have done little to disrupt the momentum that had been building within Scottish middle-distance running prior to the pandemic.

While team-mates Jemma Reekie and Laura Muir have picked up where they left off by leaving their mark all across Europe, if anything it is shaping up to be even more competitive among the men.

Jake Wightman’s recent performance at the Monaco Diamond League – when he posted the second-fastest 1500m time by a Brit ever – has set an early high bar upon resumption of competitive racing.

Josh Kerr is winning events over in the United States, while the third of last season’s world championship finalists – Neil Gourley – has warmed up with strong performances in Sweden and Italy over 2000m and 800m respectively. Chris O’Hare and Andy Butchart will be in the conversation at some point, too.

Gourley returns to Sweden this weekend to run over 1500m at the Stockholm Diamond League, eager to push for a personal best.

With the starting gun effectively having been fired in the race for places for next year’s rearranged Olympics, the Giffnock North runner knows there is little room for complacency. But he expects all the Scottish hopefuls to be inspired, rather than intimidated, by the level of competition.

“It’s definitely something that ought to spur us all on,” he said during a brief stay back home in Glasgow.

“It’s not a new thing having this competition but it feels like it’s reaching new highs all the time, especially in the 1500m.

“I saw that performance coming from Jake. I spent some time with him in Sweden recently and we were chatting about Monaco then. I didn’t get invited and he did!

“We’re all supporting each other to do well, Jake in particular for me as we go so far back. I was cheering him on from home and wishing I could have been in that race too! But it was brilliant to see.

“It’s clear to see these high standards are driving even higher standards. I think even the younger guys are realising that the expectations are rising all the time and the goals are getting higher if they want to stay competitive, even within Scotland or the UK. It’s only going to get tougher for us all but that’s got to be a good thing.”

Gourley admits racing this summer is a “bonus” having feared at one point that competitions and international travel would both fall by the wayside. He now hopes he can use a strong field in Stockholm to bring down his 1500m best of 3:35:95.

“It’s important just to be racing for racing’s sake at the moment,” he admitted. “It’s good to be getting back into a bit of rhythm as it had been quite a while. Just to mix it up with this field will be fantastic. In terms of a time, I’m looking for a PB without a doubt.

“And in this kind of field it’s something I should be doing. My PB maybe doesn’t quite replicate what I’ve achieved in racing at championship events. So I’ll be looking to lower it a little bit if I can.”

Defending his British title in Manchester in a few weeks is also in his thoughts. “That’s one that’s marked in the calendar already. I really enjoy championship racing more than I do pacemaker, time trial races that you get in Diamond League.

“So I’m up for defending my 1500m title. I’ll be coming in with that in mind. And you appreciate the chance to do that even more given the year we’ve had. You can’t take anything for granted.”

Gourley will return to his base in Oregon in the autumn to continue his preparations for Tokyo. An 11th-placed finish in that world final in Doha last October signalled to the 25 year-old that he would need to get stronger to be competitive at the Olympics.

“If I’m being a bit selfish the delay maybe suits me physically,” he admitted. “I’ll be another year older and edging towards the purple patch of my career. And it’s another year for me to get stronger.

“I’m at the stage where I need to get physically stronger endurance-wise if I’m going to be able to get into a position to challenge for a medal.

“It was quite clear at the world championships that, over three hard rounds of 1500m, I wasn’t quite able to hang on in the third round in four days. I need to get stronger and it’s something I’ve been working on as part of the altitude training we’ve been doing. So it’s maybe a positive to have a bit more time to get myself ready for Tokyo.”