Tommy hopes Games spark sports revival

Tommy Boyle
Tommy Boyle

Athletics coach Tommy Boyle will be merely an interested spectator at the Commonwealth Games track and field events in Glasgow next week.

But in 1986 the Motherwell man was at the heart of one of Scotland’s big success stories as Tom McKean won silver in the 800 metres.

Viewpark’s McKean ran the race of his life to finish second behind England’s Steve Cram and propel himself into the international limelight.

Twenty eight years on Boyle, who’s still coaching, looked back fondly on those Edinburgh Games and expressed the hope that Scotland’s athletes will prosper in Glasgow after a long period of decline.

The 1986 event is best remembered for Liz Lynch’s 10,000m gold, but McKean also gave the home support plenty to cheer.

The build-up to the Games was overshadowed by political rows and cash problems, and Boyle said: “On top of that it was wet and windy - typical Glasgow Fair weather.

“Tom was ranked outside the world’s top 10 so there was no pressure on him, but while most of the Scottish athletes were amateurs he had a major sponsor and a support team of eight.

“He was ahead of his time in that respect and it made a big difference.

“Seb Coe had pulled out of the event due to a virus, but Cram was enjoying a purple patch. He was awesome in the final and ran probably the best 800 of his career.

“However, Tom smashed his personal best in second place and 1986 proved to be a breakthrough year for him - three weeks later he beat Cram in the European Championship 800 final, finishing second behind Coe.”

McKean also went on to win the world indoor title during a marvellous track career and he remains the Scottish 800m record-holder.

Boyle also coached another top middle distance runner, Yvonne Murray, whose Scottish 1,500m record lasted 27 years before Laura Muir broke it just two weeks ago.

The respected coach believes a long decline in Scottish athletics can be traced back to the mid-80s.

Boyle said: “There has been a failure as a nation to recognise the importance of physical activity in relation to sport, health and well-being.

“We’ve changed as a nation. For example, kids used to play all the time at night and at weekends and that doesn’t happen now.

“We’re now paying the price with rising levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Boyle says it’s vital children are encouraged to be active and take up sport which, he believes, can teach them many ‘life lessons’.

He now works two days a week with the Winning Scotland Foundation which devises programmes to help children develop through sport.

And he coaches a group of 14 youngsters in the Motherwell area. They include his teenage sons Adam and Christopher who both won medals in the recent Scottish Schools Athletics Championships.

For Boyle, though he’s long been associated with successful athletes, it’s not all about winning but working hard to be the best you can.

He gets just as much satisfaction from bumping into the many ordinary folk he once coached at Bellshill YMCA. Boyle said: “McKean was a by-product of that. For me it’s about providing something that keeps kids away from drugs, drink and trouble on the streets.”

Turning to Glasgow, Boyle sees 400m hurdler Eilidh Child as Scotland’s ‘hottest medal prospect’ but says the rankings suggest there could be more success in field events such as high jump, pole vault and hammer than on the track.

One track star he is looking forward to seeing is Edinburgh’s Lynsey Sharp, the European 800m champion. Boyle coached her for 18 months after she had struggled with injury and helped get her career back on track.

Boyle is delighted that Strathclyde Park is a Games venue and many local people will benefit from the money invested there.

He believes the Games must be judged on the impact they have on our young people. Boyle said: “We must see how many kids are involved in sport not one, but two years, from now.

“I think the Games will motivate my own kids to train harder this winter and I think we must use this opportunity to encourage and inspire them all.”