Kilsyth athlete Holly thrilled to earn Commonwealth Games place

Holly McArthur is getting set for the Gold Coast next year (pic by Michael Gillen)
Holly McArthur is getting set for the Gold Coast next year (pic by Michael Gillen)

Kilsyth teenage athlete Holly McArthur got the perfect early birthday and Christmas present all rolled into one last week.

The former Kilsyth Academy pupil, who turns 18 today (Wednesday), has earned a place on the plane taking the Team Scotland athletics squad to Australia for next year’s Commonwealth Games.

Holly will become the first Scot in 20 years to take part in a Commonwealth Games heptathlon competition when she takes to the track at the Gold Coast in April.

She put herself firmly in the frame for a place in the team with a stunning, magnificent seven personal bests in the heptathlon at last summer’s European Under-20 Championships in Grosseto.

That gave her the necessary qualifying standard for the Commonwealth Games - but she was taking nothing for granted until the team for the Gold Coast was officially announced last week.

She admitted: “After me getting the standard in Italy I was kind of hopeful, but at the same time I wasn’t sure because there’s such strong athletes in Scotland and quite a lot of people made the standard. But I’m just delighted with the news.

“Since Italy I competed at the Scottish age group, just to finish off my season, and after the Scottish championships I’ve been training hard and just focussing on the Gold Coast.

“I’m really excited and honoured to represent Scotland and glad that the season has worked out the way it was supposed to, and more.”

Unlike mainstream athletics events, focus in the multi-discipline heptathlon environment is on producing your best against the clock, or distance measure, rather than on simply finishing ahead of your rivals.

It’s all about being the best you can be - or as close to it as you can - event by event.

And Holly certainly delivered just that with her remarkable performance in Grosseto, a competition which was her main target for the year.

She had gone there in good form, having started the year by smashing a 34-year-old record twice in a week.

Holly amassed 5,332 points on her way to winning the English Athletics championships in Bedford, smashing the Scottish under-20 heptathlon mark which had stood since 1983.

And she did it again the following weekend at an international competition in Tenerife, this time setting a mark of 5,478 which qualified her to compete at the Euros.

Holly still had to make the 5,600 points required for the Gold Coast - but best ever performances in her 100 metres hurdles, high jump, shot putt, 200 metres, long jump, javelin and 800 metres gave a her a new record tally of 5,687.

And as well as securing a creditable 11th place finish overall in the heptathlon, Holly also returned from Italy with a bronze medal after stepping in to help the British 4x400m relay squad.

Of course returning from the Gold Coast with a medal would be a different prospect entirely - and level-headed Holly is realistic enough to know that simply soaking in - and learning from - the experience will be her main focus this time round.

She said: “The standard will be high with the likes of Katarina Johnson-Thompson competing.

“I’m just hoping that I enjoy my first experience of competing at the Commonwealth Games and hopefully I’ll just learn and develop as an athlete from the opportunity I’ve got.

“Usually I peak for my performances around July or August time but the Games are in April, so in training we’re just keeping sharp.

“I’m going through quite a hard block of training right now and I’m just going to target major competitions and indoors so that I’m not burnt out April-time.

“My competition in Australia is quite close to the end so hopefully I’ll be able to acclimatise to the weather before actually competing.

“This year my speed really came on and with me being faster that really helped my hurdles, my 200, 800 and long jump.

“Now I’m really hoping to improve my high jump and also my javelin because I feel I’ve got a few more metres to gain.

“But I’m just looking forward to it all.”

Holly’s coach Iain McEwan admitted simply making the European Juniors was the main target at the start of the year.

He said: “At the start of the year she had never competed over the senior specifications, but even in the lower under-17 specifications she was something like 600 points away from qualification.

“At that point in time it was touch and go whether she would even qualify for the European Juniors and it would have been a great season if she had got that qualification and stopped there.

“But to actually get there and then put together the performance she did in Italy to make the standard was just fantastic. To make seven PBs in every event, it was almost a faultless performance.

“It’s extremely rare, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.”

While Holly has the speed and power necessary to perform well in all disciplines, Iain believes her mindset and mental strength has also been key to her success so far.

He said: “To be so switched on in a pressure situation against some of the best athletes in the world and to do it in that environment was what secured her selection.

“In Italy she was performing in 30 degree temperatures and at a level she’s never performed at before and she didn’t seem fazed by it at all. She really held everything together and nailed it all.

“She’s probably about four years ahead of where we expected her to be. We didn’t really expect this Commonwealth Games to be what we’d be looking at.

“So this is looking at experience, gaining all sorts of experience from this and taking it back. There’s a lot of really good girls out there and everybody will be looking to perform above their best.

“I think the standard of the heptathlon in this Commonwealth Games will be way ahead of what it’s been in the last couple, but we’re training well and working on all the technical things she needs to be doing and I’m confident she’ll perform well.”