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Lockdown fitness kicks are good news for Scottish athletics clubs with no Olympics this year

© SNSScots runner Laura Muir
Scots runner Laura Muir

From those eyeing a gold medal to people watching from the sofa, the postponement of the Olympics until next year due to the pandemic was a big disappointment.

Events like the Tokyo games, which were due to kick off earlier this week, play a huge part in attracting people to take up athletics.

It means coronavirus has not only disrupted training and coaches for athletes of all ages and abilities, but also delayed one of their biggest adverts.

But that might be mitigated by the fact that many have been inspired to dust off their running shoes while living under lockdown.

Downloads of the NHS Couch to 5K app soared by one million during the past few months and, now that some restrictions have been lifted, running clubs across Scotland are seeing an uptake in demand.

Colin Hutchison, head of development at scottishathletics, said: “With lockdown lasting a number of months, those who started or re-started running are now a lot fitter than they were – if they kept it going – and they will have experienced the physical health and wellbeing benefits running can bring.

“Locally, clubs and jogging groups have already started to see renewed interest, and we anticipate a spike as restrictions ease further.

“We will certainly be working with our athletics clubs and jogscotland groups to direct these runners into the sport, when it is safe to do so, and keep them active.”

© scottishathletics
Colin Hutchison, scottishathletics Head of Development

Although some athletic events are things that could be done within social distancing and lockdown restrictions, the pandemic has had a big impact on training and coaching.

It meant that, to continue development, there had to be some outside of the box thinking.

“Clearly the restrictions of lockdown had a huge effect on group athletics,” Colin said. “It just was not possible for clubs to meet in a physical way.

“We were able to set up a series of virtual challenges, where athletes ‘ran solo’ or competed on their own, and then performances were fed into leaderboards. It helped give athletes and clubs across Scotland a focus.

“A lot of coaching moved online and clubs have also been creative at finding ways to stay connected with their members.

“As restrictions begin to ease, we’re working with the Scottish Government and sportscotland to provide guidance to the sport and to help clubs resume training.

“Clubs are having to change their traditional approach to delivering training and are utilising more public spaces until facilities reopen.”

At elite-level, the postponement of the Olympics is an obvious blow to those hoping to represent Team GB in Tokyo.

Instead of preparing in top facilities around the world, the likes of Laura Muir and Jemma Reekie shared clips on social media of their home work-outs and running sessions in the garden.

And for young athletes on the path to top-level athletics, the pause put on training looks to just be a small bump on their road to success.

“At all levels, a lot of competition has been on hold,” Colin said. “But really it just pushes the preparation and competition opportunities back 12 months – so Scottish prospects are probably not affected a great deal.

“All sorts of representative events, like European age group championships, are moving so our young athletes and their coaches simply have to find ways to reset their focus for a bit further down the line.

“Keeping things ‘ticking over’ this year has become the mantra because, with no events and the likes of no physio support available, training ‘flat out’ wasn’t advisable.

“We’ve asked athletes and coaches to ‘train smart’ and be prepared to alter their goals looking forward.”

When the Olympics are eventually held next summer, scottishathletics once again hope to capitalise on events being televised across the nation every day.

“Big events are always helpful in maintaining the profile of the sport and stimulating interest,” Colin said. “We’ve seen that happen in particular in Scotland in the aftermath of Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

“We work year round with clubs to support the recruitment and retention of members and have plans in place to help prepare them for, and take advantage of, any spike in interest in the summer of 2021 around the Olympics.”