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Athletics: The only way is Essex for north-east hopefuls at BUCS Championships

Roisin Harrison running for Ireland at the Dynamic New Athletics meet.
Roisin Harrison running for Ireland at the Dynamic New Athletics meet.

Several north-east prospects will vie for honours when the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Championships returns after three years this weekend.

It is the first time BUCS has been held in Chelmsford, Essex – but the long journey for Roisin Harrison, Claire McGarvey and Jane Davidson is not going dim their quest for a podium place.

All three have good chances of returning north of the border with medals after some excellent performances over the winter.

Roisin Harrison has come off the back of what is undoubtedly the best indoor season of her career. Having previously been a 100m and 200m specialist, the Aberdeen-based Ireland international has since switched her focus to the 400m, and became Scottish indoor champion over the distance in January.

Despite her newfound success over the 400m, however, Harrison has by no means turned her back on the 200m. Having taken gold in the event at the Scottish University Outdoor Championships in Grangemouth last weekend – running 24.06sec into a strong headwind – a second championships medal in the space of two weeks is by no means impossible.

Also with an eye on a podium place is Jane Davidson. The Scottish champion over 60m hurdles, who is coached by Aberdeen Athletics Club stalwart Bob Masson, has already made an excellent start to her outdoor season. Like Harrison, Davidson was on the podium in Grangemouth last weekend at the Scottish University Championships. Her 100m hurdles time saw her take silver in the event.

Not content with one race over the weekend, Davidson raced again the following day, running a personal best of 14.56sec in challenging conditions to set herself up nicely for this weekend’s BUCS championships, where she will face some of the best in the business.

Roisin Harrison (190) and Kathryn Christie (181) running the 400m in Glasgow.

One of the most intriguing prospects for the championships, however, is Claire McGarvey. The 20-year-old from Banchory has already added 4cm onto her previous high jump personal best of 1.74m. Now comfortably jumping over her own height, McGarvey is heading into the 2022 outdoor season as Scotland’s No.1 ranked high jumper.

McGarvey is currently based in Glasgow, where she is studying for a degree in neuroscience, and had something of a quiet outdoor season in 2021, jumping only four times competitively. But a packed schedule over the winter, which saw her place fourth at the British Indoor Championships – and take silver at the BUCS Indoor Championships – has seen surge into the top 10 of the UK for her event.

One might think McGarvey is feeling the weight of expectation given her recent performances – and although this would have been a familiar scenario in previous years, McGarvey says the pressure is off this season. The Covid-19 lockdowns, which were a huge hindrance to field eventers, did not see McGarvey go training in fields and public parks, as other athletes did. In fact, the lockdowns saw her take a step back from athletics and effectively press the reset button on her career.

Aberdeenshire high jumper Claire McGarvey.

She said: “I didn’t train very much (during the lockdowns) because I hate doing high jump when I feel like I’m not doing well – I just didn’t want to be doing it. But when I managed to come back and start training properly, I remembered why I loved doing it so much. It didn’t feel so much about constantly trying to just jump to try and be as good as I used to be – I felt I was able to start again a little bit.

“That helped me to not focus on ‘I have to do it otherwise it’s terrible.’ Instead, it was ‘let’s see what happens and see how high I can jump.’

“It wasn’t a ‘if I don’t do this then I’ve failed’ mindset. It was a change of mindset more than a change of training. I haven’t done that much different in training – it was just the way I thought about it.”

She added: “All the people training in a field during lockdown… there was no reason why I couldn’t have done any of that – Banchory is full of fields and random little paths. But I wasn’t mentally in the right place to be doing that – it just felt like such a chore and such an effort. When I was finally able to come back and actually enjoy it and train with other people again, it all made sense why I was trying to do it.”

A jump of 1.75m saw McGarvey take a straightforward victory in the Scottish University Championships last weekend, but BUCS will see her face stiffer competition. And given it’s her first BUCS outdoor championships, McGarvey’s approach will be the same method which has seen her soar to new heights over the past few months: do it and see what happens.

She added: “I feel like I’m just trying to go into these things as relaxed as possible. I’ve never done them before so I’m not putting any pressure on myself to do better than the last time – there is no last time. It’s not so much a pressure or anxiety anymore. It’s more a motivation, I suppose.”