NEIL GOURLEY is not one to rest on his laurels. 

The 25-year-old was British champion over 1500m in 2019 but is convinced he will need to be a whole lot better than that if he is to make the team for the Tokyo Olympics this summer. 

“If I’m in the same form this year as I was to win in 2019, I really don’t think that’ll be good enough,” he says.  

“If I’m expecting the same battle this year as I had that day, I think I might well be out of luck.” 

It says much about the strongest track event in Britain that truly world-class 1500m runners are far from guaranteed a seat on the plane to Tokyo. 

The event in this country has half a dozen or more men who are genuine contenders for one of the three Olympic spots; alongside Gourley there’s his fellow Scots Jake Wightman, Chris O’Hare and Josh Kerr, as well as a number of Englishmen who will be in the mix come selection day. 

While this level of competition to merely make the British team would be dispiriting for some, it is what drives Gourley on and it is what he uses as motivation throughout the lull in competitive action as a result of Covid. 

Admittedly, it’s somewhat easier to endure months on end of training when based in America, as Gourley has been since the pandemic began early last year, but the Glaswegian has made sure not to have wasted a minute of the last twelve months. 

“I know some people took their foot of the gas when competitions began to get cancelled but I saw it as a chance to train even harder and see what I could do at altitude without the risk of having races coming up and not being ready,” he says. 

“The goal became what can I do to get myself in the best shape possible. I ended up in the shape of my life – I was running times I couldn’t even do in the lead-up to the 2019 World Championships.  

“I did a 3000m time trial where I PB’d by about 20 seconds so I surprised myself with the shape I was in.” 

If the past few seasons have seen the men’s 1500m boast an impressive standard, 2020 saw the event go up yet another level. Wightman, Gourley’s Team Scotland teammate, set an impressive benchmark in the few races that were held post-lockdown, running a new Scottish record of 3 minutes 29.47 seconds. 

And while Gourley is far from obsessive about the performance of his rivals, neither is he oblivious to it. Rather than feel daunted by the task of having to be in the shape of his life to match the likes of Wightman though, he is excited by the prospect. 

“It’s impossible to ignore when someone like Jake is running world-class times but it’s different with someone like him because I’ll be watching him racing and be cheering for him. As much as he’s a competitor a lot of the time, I’m also willing him on so it’s an interesting dynamic,” he says. 

But it spurs me on because I know there’s not much room for error and I know I’ll have to have probably a better build-up than I’ve ever had before to beat someone like Jake. 

“I have to go and earn a spot at the Olympics so that’s what I’m going to try and do. I certainly don’t feel like it’s mine to lose.  

“At the moment anyway, I don’t feel too nervous about it all - I’m just working as hard as I can day-to-day to earn that spot.” 

There is considerable work to be done before Gourley can begin contemplating making his Olympic debut. A few indoor races in the early part of this year is the provisional plan before he turns his attention to the outdoor season.  

So the Glaswegian has a big year ahead and while becoming an Olympian is a long-standing dream, Gourley admits he is at a stage in his career where merely getting to the Games would not be enough to satisfy his ambitions. 

“It’s never really been my goal just to represent Team GB – of course that’s something to be very proud of but for me, the goal is to win Olympic and World medals, if that opportunity comes along,” he says.  

“So if I’m not in the position to make the British team then I was never going to win medals anyway. 

“The goal has to be to reach a level where I can make the team and as a result of that, it means I’m in to major championships with a chance of doing well when I get there. So it goes hand-in-hand.  

“But my goal is definitely above just scraping into the team.”