OF all the medals won by Scottish athletes at Tokyo 2020, few were met by quite as much delight and enthusiasm as those won on the track. 

A wonderful silver medal from Laura Muir and a gutsy bronze from Josh Kerr, both in the 1500m, was an impressive return. 

Not since 1988, when Liz McColgan and Yvonne Murray returned from Seoul with a silver and a bronze respectively, have Scottish track and field athletes had such an impressive showing on the Olympic stage

While Olympic success is, of course, never guaranteed, there was quiet confidence from those in the sport in Scotland ahead of Tokyo that something special could happen. 

And for Ian Beattie, chair of Scottish Athletics, he admits that seeing Scottish athletes succeed on the greatest stage of them all earlier this month was a sight to behold. 

“We’ve had athletes, particularly Laura, knocking on the door for quite a few years so to see her get a medal was great,” he says.  

“And we’ve all known for a while that Josh is a world-class runner and so to produce the run he did in an Olympic final was brilliant.” 

It may have been the medal-winning performances that grabbed many of the headlines since the athletes returned home to Scottish soil, but what has been particularly encouraging for Beattie was the results which backed-up Muir and Kerr’s medal-winning runs. 

“I was also pleased to see that we had other athletes come close; Jemma Reekie missed a medal by nine hundredths of a second and if Jake Wightman had won a medal in the 1500m, no one would have been surprised because he’s such a quality athlete. And then there’s someone like Eilish McColgan who continues to improve,” he says. 

“So it’s been a very encouraging Games from our point of view.” 

There has long been a debate about the impact elite success has on the grassroots of sport. 

On one side of the coin is the argument that the two are completely detached; that elite sport and elite athletes are so far away from those at the lower levels of their sport that their success is all but irrelevant.  

However, there is the flip side which argues that the impact of success at elite level has a significant drip-down effect and so does have a direct impact on those at grassroots level. 

It is impossible to prove the theory one way or another but Beattie is a firm subscriber to the latter ideology. 

“This success will give us more of a focus on the sport,” he says.  

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“Youngsters seeing Laura and Josh’s success will hopefully realise they came through the clubs and are now Olympic medallists so they’ll, hopefully, think well why can’t I do that too? I hope they’ll see them and think it’s not an impossible dream.  

“I think on the elite side, they set the bar higher for everyone too. 

“Around the time I came in as chair, the attitude was just about getting to the Commonwealth Games and so for that to have changed so drastically is remarkable. The goal now is to be winning world-level medals.” 

Those within Scottish Athletics have long been of the belief that a strong sport comes with a strong club system and it is surely no coincidence that success at the top level has coincided with success, in terms of participation numbers and also in competition levels, throughout the age groups.  

Beattie wholeheartedly supports this focus on the club system and believes the hard work across the country is now really paying off. 

“The clubs have bounced back well from Covid and we’ve just had our entries for the Scottish Championships finalised and we’re now back to pre-Covid levels, with around 1400 entries which is so good to see,” he says. 

“What we’ve always tried to make sure is that it’s about a strong club system that will continue to produce athletes of this quality. 

“This comes down to athletes and coaches working incredibly hard. Our role, as a governing body, is to provide an environment they can flourish in.  

“Governing bodies don’t win medals, athletes do but we can provide an environment that helps them do that. We’ve always tried to make sure we’re a sport where everybody is working together and that, hopefully, helps athletes achieve success.” 

The recent Olympic triumphs could well be just the start of things over the next few years. 

With next year’s calendar including a World Championships, Commonwealth Games and European Championships within the space of just a few weeks, there is plenty of opportunity for further silverware to be making its way back to Scottish shores. 
And with another World Championships in 2023 and the Paris Olympics the following year, there are an unprecedented number of major competitions on the horizon. 

The beauty of sport is its unpredictability but all the signs are that Scottish athletes are in a strong position to garner more success.  

Beattie, whose reign as chair ends next month, is far too long in the tooth to start spouting any specific predictions but he is hopeful that next summer will prove fruitful for Scottish athletes. And that will, he believes, continue to strengthen athletics’ place as one of Scotland’s strongest sports at elite level. 

“It’s a very exciting time for the sport in this country,” he says. 

“2022 will be a busy summer and I think our biggest challenge at Birmingham 2022 is going to be, with such a packed schedule, getting people there. You’d hope, though, that with a Scottish team at the Commonwealths, that would be quite a high priority for some athletes.  

“But I very much hope the athlete who will be there will be able to really deliver.”