AS LONDON HOSTS THE IAAF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS IN AUGUST WE'LL BE HOPING TO REPRISE THE GLORY OF 2012. AND TWO NEW STARS HAVE THE BRILLIANCE TO SHINE
Callum Hawkins and Laura Muir are ready for the World Champs
He followed London by finishing ninth in the Olympic Marathon in Rio, before posting a stunning 60:24 to win the Great Scottish Run half marathon a few weeks later, smashing the Scottish half-marathon record in the process. However, the record was invalidated early this year when the course was found to be 150m short.
It could easily have been a demoralising experience for a less confident character, but even in the midst of disappointment Hawkins could still extract the positives. ‘It was huge for me,’ he says. ‘Even with the conversion [to the full distance] it’s still a sub61-minute performance. It gave me the confidence that if I could do that I could get close to 60.’
As if to prove it, Hawkins went to Japan in February this year and ran 60 minutes dead to win the Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon – this time legitimately smashing the Scottish record. During a dominant performance he ran back-to-back 10K PBS of 28:28 and 28:27 and rocketed to number two in the all-time UK rankings, behind Farah.
Hawkins rewrote the record books again in the New York City Half Marathon in March, where he ran 60:08 to become the fastest Briton on US soil, overhauling the existing record held by, you guessed it, that man Farah. Although the time was a few seconds slower than his month-old PB, it was another key belief-building performance. ‘I think in the form I was in for New York, on a fast, flat course I could have broken 60 minutes,’ he says. ‘The first half is through Central Park so it’s pretty hilly.’
In the space of less than a year a nascent talent had become a world-class contender. But ask him what the main factor was behind his seemingly meteoric rise to prominence and the answer is logical but prosaic: long-term consistency.
‘I think it’s just the last three or four years of consistently high mileage in training,’ he says. ‘I’ve not had any major injuries. Over the last few years my confidence has snowballed and I’m just loving my running. And moving up to the marathon at the end of 2015 agreed with me.’ Like a lot of overnight successes, it seems Hawkins’ journey to the top has been built on years of graft.
GOING THE DISTANCE That journey started when he followed in the footsteps of his dad, Robert, the 1979 Scottish under-15 cross-country champ, and now his coach, into running. Both he and his older brother Derek, also an elite marathoner, were promising teenage athletes, and by under-17 level Callum had a string of Scottish titles to his name. The Scottish inter-district championships used to take place at Holyrood on the same day as the International Cross-country, which gave the teenage Hawkins
‘ I WAS IN PAIN, BUT WITH THE CROWD AND ME BEING FIRST BRIT, I CAN’T PUT INTO WORDS HOW AMAZING THE FEELING WAS’
a chance to see Kenenisa Bekele, one of his running heroes, at his imperious best, winning the senior men’s title three times in succession from 2006 onwards.
Hawkins then ran for Butler University in Indiana, US, for two years between 2010 and 2012. ‘He was an aerobic monster,’ remembers his college coach Matt Roe. ‘He was aerobically the best athlete I’ve ever coached.’
Unfortunately two knee operations in 2012 hampered his progress into the senior ranks. ‘It was tough at the time,’ Hawkins recalls. ‘The first one wasn’t too bad, but to have to go in a second time prolonged it – they were almost a year apart. But I always had the feeling I’d be back.’
He recovered to run the 10,000m in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, finishing 20th, but events the following season led him away from the track and onto the road. ‘The track season in 2015 didn’t go well,’ says Hawkins. ‘I was trying to work on speed in the 5000m and it just didn’t happen. Then the [qualifying] time came out for Rio [Olympic Marathon] and I thought 2:14 was achievable. The way things worked out I ended up having to do London, and just went from there.’
Hawkins’ sparkling form saw him being the first British athlete to be selected for this summer’s World Championships in London, where he will toe the starting line in the marathon on Tower Bridge on August 6.
Some of his preparation has been done at the high altitude of Boulder, Colorado, US, under coach Steve Jones, a multiple marathon champion himself and still the UK record holder. Jones was legendary for his fearsome work ethic and determination to give everything during a race, qualities his protégé is hoping to take from him. And there are similarities: the appetite for hard work, with Hawkins regularly churning out 120-mile training weeks. Jones was obsessed with crushing the opposition first and running times second. Hawkins himself doesn’t wear a watch in half marathons, preferring to race them rather than run according to a strategy dictated by the clock. ‘It’s brilliant being round him,’ says Hawkins. ‘He’s a legend. He had the mentality that if you give your best and get beat, there’s nothing more you can do.’
Such a determined but pragmatic approach is helping Hawkins to deal with his growing reputation. Has life changed much in the last year? ‘A little bit,’ he replies. ‘I’m getting more interest from the bigger races. That’s good because I want to compete against the best. But overall things are still the same. My mum and dad keep me grounded as much as they can.’
There is also Hawkins’ brother and occasional training partner, Derek: the rules of sibling rivalry dictate that the two always want to run quicker than each other, but ‘we’re always there if the other needs some advice’.
His aim in the Worlds is ‘just to try to compete at the front and hopefully I can improve on what I did in Rio’. Beyond that is the prospect of future contests against Farah, who is moving up to the marathon after retiring from the track this summer. And Hawkins is adamant that he won’t give up his status as top-ranked road runner easily. ‘Not without a fight,’ he says. ‘Even if he is Sir Mo Farah.’