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Neil Drysdale: 2022 sport peaked when Eilish McColgan hit same Commonwealth heights as mum Liz

Scotland's Eilish McColgan (left) poses with her gold medal alongside Liz McColgan on day seven of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Scotland's Eilish McColgan (left) poses with her gold medal alongside Liz McColgan on day seven of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Sport often serves up exciting and thrilling moments which make you want to punch the air, even though the feeling is frequently transient.

There have been plenty of these occasions in 2022, whether relishing Scotland defeat England in rugby or the West Indies in T20 cricket, yet, in both cases, this wasn’t the catalyst for success – in the Six Nations or the World Cup.

Too regularly, in both sports, hints of promise were diminished by signs of old weaknesses – the inability to finish off opponents or the failure to transform potential into the hard currency of victory.

Yet, even as we approach the end of the year, there was a glorious period at the start of August which is indelibly etched in my mind – and the events at the Commonwealth Games offered a reminder that nice people can realise their dreams and ambitions without shedding the decent qualities which helped them on their rise up the ladder.

Eilish McColgan’s never-say-die attitude

Eilish McColgan has been pounding the beat, remorselessly, unstintingly, for many years, echoing the hard graft and never-say-die attitude of her mother, Liz – who famously triumphed at the 1986 and 1990 Commonwealth Games.

But could she seize the moment to make her own mark in history? Could she heed the example of the woman who was back on a treadmill just months after giving birth?

Eilish McColgan wins the 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games. Image: Ryan Browne/Shutterstock

We know the answer to these questions now, of course. And, given much of the rest of what happened in this annus horribilis, there’s no harm in accentuating the sheer joy which Eilish delivered or the fashion in which Liz was there by her side, cheering her on and reminding her she could blaze her own trail and fulfil her goals.

The 31-year-old Dundonian was all gallus grit as she embarked on her quest for 10,000m gold in Birmingham. And then, as she battled against quality Kenyan opponent, Irine Cheptai, even while the crowd whipped up a storm of support for the Scot, there was a dramatic denouement when the duo entered the last lap.

I won’t have been the only person to be split between covering my eyes and being transfixed by this story unfolding in front of us.

Eilish trailed with 250m to go, but there was a steely determination on her face and, gradually, she reeled Cheptai in, surged towards the tape, and raised her arms to celebrate the biggest win of her career.

Eilish McColgan of Scotland celebrates victory in the Commonwealth Games 10,000m final in Birmingham.

In the next few moments, when she embraced Liz and we strove to make sense of what had just happened, her mum gazed at her with the same admiration and respect which she used to command from crowds throughout her illustrious time on the track.

And it was a reminder of why these women deserve their place in Scottish sporting lore – they’ve never had a silver spoon in their mouths, nor expected any favours; everything which is on their respective CVs has been paid for with lashings of sweat and industry and a wonderfully thrawn refusal to accept second best in any situation.

Nothing ever stopped them racing

Soon enough, as the merry pair began talking about the past and the present, there was a lovely tribute to Eilish from Liz, who has seen at first-hand just how difficult it is to reach the pinnacle of your sport when you have to do it on your own terms.

Indeed, there are striking family traits in their DNA and their achievements are all the more noteworthy when you realise their sacrifices and struggles, stretching all the way back to the days when Liz was pounding the streets of Whitfield, come rain, snow or frost, or when she was dumped by her sponsor in the midst of her serried exploits.

Being the offspring of a famous parent can be a mixed blessing. There’s usually early expectation placed on your shoulders and, sometimes, it can be overpowering.

Eilish McColgan versatile in a range of different events

At past championships, Eilish had demonstrated her versatility in a range of different events, from the steeplechase to the 1,500m, 3,000m, 5,000m and 10,000m.

And there were merited prizes on her peripatetic journey: a bronze medal in the 3,000m at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade in 2017 and a silver in the 5,000m at the European Championships in Berlin the following year.

Eilish McColgan celebrates winning silver in the women’s 5,000m final at the 2018 European Championships.

But the elusive gold had remained out of reach as she passed 30.

And then, suddenly, it was in her grasp, as she stood on top of the medal podium, listening to Flower of Scotland with a beatific expression on her face.

Scotland’s Eilish McColgan celebrates after winning the women’s 10,000m final at the Commie Games.

Eilish ran faster than her mother had done for either of her Commonwealth golds and her time of 30 minutes 48.60 seconds was a new Games record.

But nobody was bothering with comparisons as we celebrated an extraordinary story.

‘Most incredible moment of my career’

“This is the most incredible moment of my career,” said Eilish. “I couldn’t hear myself think or breathe in that last 100m when the crowd carried me.”

There were plenty of mesmerising tales this year.

Laura Muir and Jake Wightman also sparkled as part of an impressive Scottish athletics squad, Eve Muirhead and her team struck gold in the curling rink at the Winter Olympics and England’s Lionesses winning the European Championship delivered a resounding v-sign to the neanderthals who are still inclined to criticise and demean women’s football.

But the McColgans were the stars. This was something which transcended mere sport.