Commonwealth Games poster girl Eilidh Child seeks Moscow final

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Scottish 400m hurdler Eilidh Child talks to SPIKES about having to raise her game; an excellent indoor season; celeb spotting with Jess Ennis, and making her mark in Moscow.

“Bloody awful” and “too timid” were just two of the blunt terms used to describe Eilidh Child’s hurdles technique when she first joined the training group of Malcolm Arnold.

So far, so bad. But rather than sulk or take offence at the curt assessment, Child fully acknowledged the critical remarks of the man who successfully guided the career of world indoor 60m hurdles record holder Colin Jackson and 2004 world indoor 60m champion Jason Gardener.

“Oh yes,” she tells SPIKES, “I had picked up a lot of bad habits. With my previous coach we worked more on getting fit and in shape but I never did much hurdling. It took a back seat. Yet I probably needed to do more because it was my weakness.”

Under Arnold’s tutelage, hurdling has become a bigger priority. Each Thursday a hurdles session has been integrated into the routine. Her technique has improved and so has her self-confidence.

Though smoothly and efficiently negotiating the hurdles is vital to mastering an event known as the man-killer, another key ingredient is basic speed. And this is a reason to be optimistic that the modest Child, 26, can make her first global championship final in Moscow this August.  

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Golden girls: European Indoor 4x400 champions (L-R) Child, Shana Cox, Christine Ohuruogu and Perri Shakes-Drayton

In the wake of exiting her London Olympic semi-final in seventh, more than a second down on her lifetime best of 54.96, Child and her esteemed coach made a swift decision to target the indoor season. She has worked on her speed, particularly over the first 200m.

The initial target was to better her outdoor 400m flat PB of 52.28 but a 52.06 time in the semi-finals of the National Championships, an event she won, hinted at greater improvements.

“We had to readjust our goals as we went along, it was a great feeling,” says Child, a former PE teacher who quit her job in the winter of 2011 to become a full-time athlete and move to Bath to be coached by Arnold.

A 51.50 for third at the Birmingham Grand Prix followed before she chipped a further 0.05 from that mark at the Euro Indoors. Child won silver in Gothenburg behind her countrywoman and erstwhile 400m hurdles rival Perri Shakes-Drayton. The pair then teamed up to form one half of a triumphant GB team in the women’s 4x400m. 

It was the finest three days of her athletics career and has instilled in Child, born in Perth, Scotland, a belief that she can finally smash through the glass ceiling of semi-final appearances at global championships. She has been eliminated at that stage of the competition at the previous two editions of the World Championships and the London 2012 Olympics.

“Based on how the indoor season went, I now know the speed is there,” says Child, a former Scottish schoolgirl swimming champion. “It is now a case of just getting the hurdling right and delivering the right race.

"The last couple of seasons, it has been a bonus to make the final. Now I should be gutted not to make the final. I’d like to lower my [400m hurdles] PB by quite a bit in 2013 but I don’t like to say times, to put myself under pressure or limit myself. If I get a good clean race and do everything right then I’ll drop a good time.”  

Moscow is clearly the priority for 2013, yet you could forgive the proud Scot for casting an eye over to the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Child was a 400m hurdles silver medallist at the 2010 Games in India. 

And as Scotland’s most prominent athlete, some have dubbed her ‘the poster girl’ for the event, a title so adroitly handled by Jess Ennis at London 2012.

In fact, Child had a first-hand view of how the heptathlon champion dealt with the enormous pressures of being a home favourite. She shared an apartment with Ennis in the athletes’ village in London.

“I got to know her very well and she is the complete role model in terms of the way she conducts herself,” says Child, who also saw another more human side to Jess Ennis: one of pre-race collywobbles and excitement to rub shoulders with the royal princes.

“You imagine these people to be super-heroes and invincible,” says Child. “Yet chatting to her a couple of days before her event, she was nervous. It was reassuring to see that even the best in the world get nervous.

"Also, when we first arrived at the village, myself, Jess and Nicola Sanders [British 400m sprinter] were walking around and saw Prince Harry. We all tried to see him, and it was nice to see Jess being exactly the same as us, and starstruck by other people.”