In My Opinion: Peter Jardine: ‘Media tanker’ is turning as audience grows

QUESTION: When do you know there really is something significant stirring in athletics in Scotland

And, importantly for this correspondent, a ‘re-awakening’ in the media interest and overall profile?

Choose from the following answers:

Was it:

A) When the double World and Olympic champion Mo Farah, in his first press conference since being awarded a knighthood, is asked – in deadly seriousness – to assess whether the wee Scottish lassie to his right can make an impact on London 2017 doubling up in events and/or become Olympic champion in 2020?

B) When Callum Hawkins, after becoming the first British athlete to beat Mo Farah in seven years, and after ninth place in Rio, is asked if he is setting his sights on a marathon medal in Tokyo?

C) When the UK-wide athletics correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, Ben Bloom, starts writing about scouring video footage from the Glasgow Athletics Association Miler Meet?

D) When STV invite Callum onto the sofa for their 5pm interview show on Monday but have to be advised he has politely declined because he’s just slipped out the door for an 18-miler less than 48 hours after Holyrood Park on a Scottish January afternoon?

The answer, of course, is any one, any combination, or all four of the above.

Even by recent standards, it has been a pretty extraordinary few days for athletics in Scotland and for those of us challenged with pushing the good news to a wider audience.

Last Wednesday night, Laura Muir stripped bare the British Indoor 5,000m record held by Liz McColgan with a startling performance. Barely 12 hours later, she was named GB and NI captain for the Great Edinburgh XC event.

Come Friday lunchtime, and Sir Mo was being invited to answer all manner of questions about Scottish athletes who, in turn, posed a few of their own – and delivered answers, too – across the Holyrood Park turf another 24 hours later.

It has been fantastic to be involved in but, frankly, nor has it been a surprise.

The profile is rising all the time, and steadily, and that’s been in direct proportion to the achievements of Scottish athletes.

In a meeting with BBC Scotland this week, it emerged that a story on Laura’s record run on the main BBC website athletics section has already drawn in excess of 300,000 hits.

Our own social media channels have leapt to Rio figures in terms of ‘reach’ and ‘likes’. Our Twitter impressions over a seven-day period will be around 400,000 and the Facebook ‘reach’ for the past seven days is at 175,000.

What was new last Saturday, as one experienced observer on the scene noted, was that, while the crowds in Edinburgh didn’t quite match the 10,000-15,000 who attended for the World Cross in 2008, this time they had Scottish athletes upon whom to focus.

In that regard, we commend the coaches and clubs involved in developing our very best athletes – and also those just below that level, who strive to be the best they can be. That’s vital work, almost always by volunteers, and isn’t to be under-estimated.

The ‘Holyrood-becomes-Hampden’ support is perfectly exemplified by the memorable image of the Tartan Army (from East Kilbride AC, who attend Euro Cross events each year) roaring on Callum Hawkins on that thrilling final lap battle with American, Leonard Korir.

Farah wasn’t quite an afterthought for the crowd, but very nearly, and that’s further evidence of a good place to be when the highest-profile athletes at an event in Scotland are the Scots.

There are still frustrations. Despite the SPFL top-flight football being on a winter break, there were a number of newspapers over Sunday and Monday who actually carried more words on Morton v Dumbarton than they did on Hawkins v Farah v Korir.

Old habits die hard.

But it is definitely starting to feel as if the ‘media tanker’ has turned around and there is a firm belief within scottishathletics that a growing profile for our elite athlete WILL help stimulate growth across other aspects of the sport.

On that note, we must commend The Herald, in particular, for taking a positive approach to covering other sports and sending two writers, Kevin Ferrie and Stewart Fisher, to both the media conference on Friday and Holyrood Park on Saturday.

Check out the ‘Other Sports’ section on the Herald website on a regular basis to pick up on that coverage.

Peter Jardine is head of communications at scottishathletics, named ‘Governing Body of the Year’ for 2016 at the Scottish Sports Awards.

This article first appeared on the website of scottishathletiecs, here.