Natural talent races to the fore of the field

Roddy Mackenzie

Budding track star Kris Robertson is ambitious but he is not chasing success. Instead, he is taking it in his stride, writes Roddy Mackenzie.

What first strikes you about Kris Robertson is his confidence.

It should not be mistaken for the arrogance of youth as the 16-year-old finds his feet in athletics.

Kris, who is now entering S6 at Bishopbriggs High in East Dunbartonshire, is genuinely surprised at his progress in just two years yet is self-assured enough to aim for the ultimate challenge: some future Olympic Games.

He is on the right track. At the end of May he clocked 400m in a personal best of 48.58 seconds at the French Schools' Championships at Dreux, near Paris, but slashed that when competing for Scotland at the British Schools International meet in Chelmsford, Essex, in July. He won the 400m race in 47.99 seconds, 0.3 seconds outside the championship record set in 2002 and a time which places him seventh on the UK all-time list for under-17s.

This month he helped Scotland to retain the Celtic Games trophy against Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland at Grangemouth by winning the under-17s 400m race in 48.11 seconds and bringing home the 4x400m relay team to victory in 3:21.07 minutes.

Kris got into athletics almost by chance. He played football and badminton and had played a lot of roller hockey "before the club I was with fell apart", he says. In November 2001, his physical education teacher, Martin Pate, entered him in the pentathlon at the Scottish Schools' Multi-Events Championships at Kelvin Hall.

"I amazed myself when I came fourth in that first pentathlon. I never trained for it," Kris says.

However, sporting excellence is in his family. His father, Sandy, who is currently treasurer of the Scottish Schools' Athletic Association, represented Scotland in the hurdles and the long jump; his mother, Anne, played badminton for Scotland; and his 19-year-old sister, Kerry, has competed at Great Britain level in gymnastics.

"Then I competed for Scotland in the December in the pentathlon international at Kelvin Hall, where I was the second best Scot," Kris continues. "It made me wonder what I could do if I trained properly for athletics.

"I'd competed in the primary schools cross-country championships but never really enjoyed it.

"I knew that if I found a sport I enjoyed, I could do well. All my family had represented Scotland and I did not want to be left out."

In a relatively short time, Kris has become the outstanding male schools'

athlete in Scotland and is set to write his name into the schools' record books.

He won the under-17 title in the Scottish Schools Pentathlon and Relay Championships at Grangemouth in June and a week later won both the under-17 400m and 400m hurdles at the Scottish Schools Track and Field Championships at the stadium.

Kris had the opportunity to go to the Loughborough international meet and compete with the cream of British athletes but opted to go to the pentathlon event instead. "It was just too big a step for me, even though I came back from France on such a high," he says.

"My best time for the 400m before France was 49.15 seconds, so I surprised myself with my time. The conditions were just right for me in France but there was no pressure on me at the finish and it makes me think I can go faster.

"I've had to reassess my targets for the season and it would be nice to get a low 48 seconds run. But I know there is plenty of time for me to get better.

"One of the things that attracted me to the pentathlon was that the competition was very relaxed and you could chat to other competitors during the event. I liked that approach and I don't want to spoil it by going after too much too soon."

Kris is a member of the Kirkintilloch Olympians Athletics Club but is not an athlete who spends five nights a week at the track. He contents himself with sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays and has started supplementing those with visits to the gym.

"I watch others doing five nights a week and don't see them improving more dramatically than I am," he explains, "and I think there is a danger of going into competitions tired.

"It works for me. I still have a lot of things to fit in: I have my school exams and I'm also a cub leader and a scout leader. Maybe that will change two or three years down the line."

Kris says he finds the physical work of athletics complements cerebral work. He is also learning about the mental side of athletics. The 400m distance requires a high degree of mental toughness to make it at the highest level.

He will wait to see what unfolds for him. While he has ambitions to represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games and go on to compete at an Olympics Games, he is level headed enough to strive for academic qualifications for a life outside athletics.

"It may be that I become a full-time athlete or it may not. I have plans to become a PE teacher, so that I always have something to fall back on," he says.

"I know that training to be a full-time athlete is difficult and there is always the chance that you can pick up a serious injury and it all ends overnight. That is why I don't want to put all my eggs into one basket and will wait and see how it goes."

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Roddy Mackenzie

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