Ahead of the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago, we speak to Scotland’s Eilish McColgan who looks back at her 2008 experiences in Pune, India.
Eilish McColgan’s athletic CV is impressive.
Apart from her 10,000m gold medals from the 2022 Commonwealth games and the 2021 European Championships, McColgan is also a Double Olympian and is the Scottish record holder over 3000m Steeplechase, 5000m and 10-mile road race.
However, before all this, McColgan’s first taste of an international event came at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games, when she was just 17.
Travelling as part of the Scotland team, McColgan competed in the 1500m and the 3000m events, held in the cultural capital of Maharashtra.
“The Commonwealth Youth Games was my first international event and my first time being part of a team environment with multi-sports,” remembers McColgan.
“It was also a bit of a culture shock - having never been to India before. It was challenging adjusting to different foods that I had never eaten before but it gave me a lot of experience for future Championships.”
In a sport where every second counts, planning is essential. However, one of the earliest lessons she learnt from those Games was how to react if things are not going to plan.
“I realised that it's important to be flexible. Flexible with what you eat before you compete, flexible on your warm up (it was absolutely roasting and incredibly humid), flexible on your travel plans (delays), flexible on when you sleep/recover/have down time (sharing with other individuals).”
The Commonwealth Youth Games is a way to encourage young athletes to continue with their sports once they hit the seniors, and McColgan believes that attending in 2008 gave her a lot of confidence – not only in her sporting ability but also in dealing with everyday life.
“It gave me a lot of confidence and made me realise this was what I wanted to really pursue as a career - I believed I could then make the senior team for Scotland. It gave me that stepping stone.
“It was great to meet other athletes from around the world and learn from them too. Socially - it was a great way to meet new people that I wouldn't have had the chance to meet otherwise. I became more confident in social situations - it wasn't daunting to introduce myself to new people and strike up conversations.”
A desire to travel was also ignited in a young McColgan, who enjoyed meeting fellow athletes from different cultures and backgrounds.
“It was a really cool experience! I had never been abroad and never been around so many different cultures. It was just nice to get an insight into how other people lived, what languages they spoke and what they ate.
“Even small things like how they prepared for their events - how they warmed up. I wanted to travel more and visit the Commonwealth countries and so every year, I tick off a different location from my bucket list.”
McColgan has kept a close eye on the up-and-coming talent and is excited to see how Amy Teasdale and Jenna Hilditch perform at the 2023 Youth Games.
“Amy is a young athlete I support with a travel grant through my not-for-profit Giving Back To Track,” explained McColgan.
“It will be her first big championship so I'm looking forward to seeing her compete. She has a really bright future ahead.
“I'm also looking forward to seeing Jenna in the high jump. It was the first event I ever did at my club (when I was a kid) so it's an event I always enjoy watching. She's made some brilliant progress this year.”
With more than1000 athletes taking part, McColgan is keen to stress the importance of these youngsters enjoying themselves and making the most of the experience.
“My advice to these athletes is to enjoy it and to keep on believing no matter what position you come.
“I was nowhere near winning a youth medal in 2008 but 14 years later - I'm a Commonwealth Games Champion and a Commonwealth Games Record Holder. This is just a stepping stone for what's to come.
“The 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games is only the start of their journey!"
Watch: McColgan storms to victory at Birmingham 2022