Eilish McColgan compete in three championships, doubling at all three, and won medals in two championships, in both the 5,000m and 10,000m. This is her story at the European Championships, thanks to European senior writer, Stuart Weir.
Eilish McColgan – European Championship medalist
After a disappointing World Championship – for understandable reasons – and a really successful Commonwealth Games and two medals, Eilish set off for the European Championships with just 8 days between the Commonwealth 5000m final and the European Championship 10K.
By most people’s standards, Munich was successful – bronze in the 5K (14.59) and silver in the 10K (30.41) but Eilish wanted more: “I think the Europeans came too soon for me. By then I was just holding on. At the Commonwealths I felt good, I felt strong, and I felt in control. At the Europeans, it was just a tired Eilish. I felt in my legs that I hadn’t recovered the way I would have liked. All those late nights and early mornings when you are standing on your feet all day [pleasing sponsors and doing media as a medal winner at the Commonwealths], I’m just not used to that. At the Commonwealths, I had had two full days of that. Even in the closing ceremony, I was the flag bearer and was on my feet all the time for that. So it wasn’t the ideal recovery as an athlete when you could be lying in your bed all day. Also, you’re not eating the normal food, you’re not recovering, not sleeping the way usually do. So Europeans just came a bit too soon. If I had had even one extra week I think it would have made a difference and I could have upgraded the medals. But I honestly did everything that I could and I am proud of it. I’m probably more proud of those medals than any others because I know how tired I was and how much that actually took out of me to get them. But it was certainly a struggle over the European Championships”.
Eilish McColgan, Yasemin Can, Lonah Salpeter, European 10,000m medalists, photos by European Athletics
There was an elephant in the room in Munich – or on the track – an African elephant. I wrote about it at the time and I want to raise the issue again. Yasemin Can won the European 10K gold and the 5K silver medals but Turkey. Lonah Salpeter, running for Israel, took bronze in the 10K. Both are Kenyan-born. Selamawit Teferi was fifth in the 10K, Ethiopian-born but running for Israel. To have half the distance medals at the European Championship won by African-born athletes, just seems wrong. With, I understand, three Kenyan-born athletes now eligible to run for Romania and another three for Kazakhstan, the next European Champs could have half the field consisting of African-born athletes!
Of course, there are situations that are quite different like Sifan Hassan coming to the Netherlands aged 15 as a refugee from Ethiopia and making her home in the Netherlands or Mo Farah a refugee coming from Somalia aged nine. But athletes are effectively bought by another country to win medals and often continue to live in their country of birth?
European 5000m medalists, Yasmin Can, silver, Konstanze Klosterhalfen, gold, Eilish McColgan, bronze, photo by European Athletics
Eilish was the first European-born athlete to finish in the 10K but did not get the gold medal. At this point, I want to stress that Eilish did not complain about this situation. She only commented in response to my question: “It’s a very tricky subject”, she said “but I definitely think that World Athletics needs to do something to crack down on it. Athletes have citizenship in these countries but they don’t live there. They live and train in Kenya. It’s not the athletes’ fault but it’s an issue for World Athletics and Seb Coe to fix. It needs looking at because it’s going to get to a point where the European Championship isn’t that.
The long camera view, European 5000m medalists, Can, Klosterhalfen, McColgan, photo by European Athletics
“It’s a little bit frustrating but I try not to think about it too much and not get worked up about it because it’s certainly not the athletes’ fault. They are all great women that I compete against but that is frustrating for sure. It’s not the athlete’s fault. You are given this big opportunity to go and race for another country and earn a lot and get out of whatever poverty you are in; by all means, take the opportunity. But I just think it’s up to World Athletics and up to Seb Coe to deal with it”.
Are you listening, World Athletics?