McKean relishes being under the radar but celebrates Scotland's latest star

Tom McKean
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Tom McKean won the 800m title in front of his home crowd at the 1990 European Indoor Championships in Glasgow

As spectators streamed out of the Emirates Arena on Sunday night, still buzzing from seeing local heroine Laura Muir complete her golden double at the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships, a less heralded local hero walked amongst them.

Twenty nine years after winning the 800m gold when these Championships were last in the Scottish city – on that occasion five miles up the road at Kelvin Hall – Tom McKean was just a face in the crowd. Which was exactly the way he wanted it to be.

But if he felt uncomfortable with the spotlight that the event’s organisers had attempted to shine on him, Scotland’s former middle distance marvel - who finished his career in the mid-1990s with European outdoor and indoor titles to his name, world indoor gold and a fistful of European Cup victories – was revelling in the athletic exploits of the next generation.

Work commitments had prevented McKean attending the previous two days of competition – he has been a policeman in the city for 22 years – but on the closing evening of the programme he was, once again, in the same sporting arena as the man who just beat him to European outdoor gold in 1986, Sebastian Coe, attending in his capacity as IAAF President  and, like his erstwhile rival, McKean was full of admiration for the latest Scottish middle distance marvel.

“It was good to see Laura win again tonight,” he said.  “I was trying to work out when she was going to go. You could see her winding up.  It was an amazing run. Better than mine!”

McKean’s performance in Glasgow was a similarly dominant and decisive one. Despite his relative lack of experience on the boards, he led from the gun and never gave his opponents – who had bumped and worried him in the qualifying rounds – a chance of the gold.

As he explained, while fellow spectators moved past him into the sharp night air, that hometown triumph had been engendered by a characteristically smart piece of motivation from the then British head coach, fellow Scot Frank Dick.

“After the semi-finals, Frank comes up to me and says: ‘Tom, I’m going to do a bit of reverse psychology on you. You be Frank Dick and I’ll be you. Tell me how I run the race.’

“And I said, ‘If I was you, I would say you’re fastest in Europe. Stay out of trouble.’

“And Frank said: ‘You’ve answered your own race plan. Now just go and execute it.’ And that was it. That was the total of it. It was amazing, it was just a light bulb moment.”

That victory laid down a base for McKean’s similarly dominant performance later that year, when he won the European outdoor title in Split and he feels Muir can gain similar benefits from her indoor exploits.

 “For me, I found it really good and I think she’ll be the same. Sometimes the indoor competition isn’t as good, so you can start experimenting with what you can do outdoors, because you’ve got the confidence that you’ve got that extra bit when not all the big names are there.

“And that’s no disrespect to Laura or anybody. That indoor win gave me a building block of ‘I’m going to try this here’, and I suppose it gave me that front-running thing for the outdoors.

“In Split it worked a treat.  I knew the splits, and it was just bang, bang, bang, bang. It just gave me another part of the armoury; that’s what it helped me do. And I think it will be the same for Laura.”

 McKean had clearly got his money’s worth from the entire evening programme.

“I actually enjoyed the relays, and I’m not a big relays fan,” he said with a grin.

Britain’s 800m silver medallist Jamie Webb also caught McKean’s eye, reminding him of a domestic rival from his time who followed him as a European indoor champion, albeit in the metric mile, namely Matthew Yates.

“I thought the boy Webb looked good, in fact he reminded me of a young Matthew Yates. He has the same characteristics as Matthew, that’s what I thought as soon as saw seen him, even in his mannerisms.

“Matthew was a good runner and he got his medal. We’ll see how Webb goes over the next couple of years. And obviously Jake Wightman’s running well as well, for Scotland. He is a talented boy.

“I think if anyone is going to get near my Scottish (indoor) record it could be him. But we’ll see.”

McKean’s indoor record, set when winning his European indoor gold in his home city, still stands at 1:46.22.

Tom McKean at the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships
Mike Rowbottom
Tom McKean at the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships

“All I want is for one more year, then that’s been held for 30 years!” he added.

“I spoke to Jake recently in fact. He came up to talk to me when I was working at Glasgow Airport. So we had a nice little chat.”

McKean, meanwhile, looks little different from the way he did in his heyday.

“I ran a 5K the other day, and I’m doing a marathon and a half marathon at the end of this year. It’s just a bit of fun, but I thoroughly enjoy it and it keeps me going.”

Asked if he had found people stopping him during the evening, he replied: “Yeah, sometimes. But when I’m sitting around I just keep my head down.”

Coming in under the radar, then?

“I always do. It doesn’t bother me. I’m just a pure athletics fan.  I love the sport.”