Eilidh takes hurdles in her stride
Eilidh Child has grown accustomed to clearing obstacles that lie in her path. As Britain's top female hurdling prospect, the 16-year-old finds one of the most demanding athletics disciplines, well, Child's play.
The day after she set a new British record for her age group (under-17) in the 300m hurdles - 41.97 seconds - at the AAA Championships in Sheffield this month, she talks of the achievement rather matter of factly. "I only beat it by 100th of a second."
Eilidh, who has just started in the sixth year at Kinross High and is a member of Pitreavie Amateur Athletic Club in Fife (where Scotland's youngest Olympic athletics medallist, Linsey Macdonald, learned her trade), has had a breakthrough year.
In addition to winning the 300m and 80m hurdles titles at the Scottish Schools Track and Field Championships at Grangemouth in June, she won the 300m hurdles at the British Schools International in Cardiff in July, where she set a new Scottish under-17 record and equalled the British record then with a time of 41.98 seconds.
At the beginning of last month at the Celtic Games in Belfast, she won the under-17 300m hurdles in 42.41 seconds and clocked her personal best in the 80m hurdles, coming second in 11.61 seconds.
Two weeks later she set the new British under-17 300m hurdles record.
All this makes it hard to believe that Eilidh ran her first 300m hurdles only in March last year and her first competitive outing over the distance a month later. Last season, she was the third-fastest ever in Britain at the distance and this year she has advanced to number one. She has never been beaten over the distance.
It was through watching the achievements of Britain's former Olympic champion Sally Gunnell on television that Eilidh was first drawn to the track. A keen swimmer, she followed in the footsteps of her older sister Iona, now 18, to try out hurdling.
"Iona did a bit of running and I went to her club at Pitreavie when I was nine and found everyone really friendly," Eilidh recalls.
"I then found it difficult to keep going at both swimming and running and decided that I had to drop one of them, so I started to concentrate on athletics. I used to run 800 metres but Iona was doing hurdling and so I tried that.
"I've surprised myself with the progress I've made over the last couple of years."
It has not been through good fortune that Eilidh has started to write her name into record books, but a combination of hard work and natural talent.
Guided by coaches Norman Gardiner and his son Glyn at Pitreavie Amateur Athletic Club, she puts in three two-hour sessions every week - usually Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays - and a few extra sessions over the summer holidays.
"We don't want to kill her at this age," says Norman. "She can step it up when she's 18, 20 if she wants.
"It will be a hard winter ahead as she steps up to the 400m hurdles but I'm sure she can handle it."
Rather uniquely for a hurdler, Eilidh also runs cross-country in the winter. "That's maybe where she gets her stamina from," says Norman. "Most hurdlers seem to die when they come into the home straight but Eilidh seems to find an extra kick. It's remarkable.
"She has the lot: speed, strength and hurdling ability and she also has a terrific attitude.
"She can go faster; just how much faster, only time will tell."
Trying the 400m hurdles will indeed be a challenge. Eilidh has already had one race over the distance against three boys in a British Junior League meeting at Pitreavie, where she clocked a remarkable 59.8 seconds.
"It was really tough and for the last 100 metres I felt as if my legs had turned to jelly, so I know it is a hard event to do," Eilidh says.
She has another race over 400m in Oxford this month before she hangs up her spikes for the season to concentrate on winter training and cross-country running.
However, she has completed her season unbeaten over the 300m hurdles by winning the under-17 race at the Bank of Scotland Scottish Junior Championships at Grangemouth in a championship best time of 42.43 seconds.
For good measure, Eilidh also won the 80m hurdles in 11.91 seconds into a strong wind.
"I'm happy with my season," she says. "My main priorities for the year were to retain all the titles I won last summer and to get the British record at under-17 level, which I did in Sheffield, even if it was by just 100th of a second.
"I'm still working on the technical side and recently I've been putting a lot of work into my start as that has not been good."
With the support of funding from the Tayside and Fife Institute of Sport - one of six regional sports institutes that link into the Scottish Institute of Sport - Eilidh has been able to travel to competitions throughout Britain.
The institute has also given her sports psychology and diet advice and ensured that she has the right preparation and back-up to succeed in her sport.
Eilidh has had little difficulty combining her athletics with her school work. "I take time off from athletics when it comes around to exams and I haven't encountered any conflict so far," she says.
She already has Higher passes in history, English, drama and physical education and will sit for three more - in psychology, religious education and administration - this year. She is keeping an open mind over where her future lies. She is considering a career as a PE teacher but first wants to see where athletics will take her.
"The Commonwealth Games in 2006 has always been a big ambition of mine" she says. "I'll just wait and see how I get on doing my first year at the 400m hurdles before I set any targets."