Full Name: Liz Lynch/McColgan
Date of Birth: 1964
Club: Dundee Hawkhill Harriers
Coach(s): Harry Bennett, John Anderson.
The brilliant career of Liz McColgan can be broken up into three parts: her glory at the Commonwealth Games in her own country, her superb World Championship triumph in Tokyo and her ability then to adapt that track technique to the roads. All three of them were memorable because of the drama McColgan brought to the event, her refusal not to allow anyone to pass her on the way to gold.
As Liz Lynch she won the Commonwealth 10,000m title in Edinburgh amid amazing, patriotic scenes before in 1991, her front-running performance to win the world title was mesmerising, before she transferred that ability to make a record-breaking marathon debut. When she at her peak, she was unstoppable.
Lynch Leads The Way
When the Commonwealth Games returned to Edinburgh in 1986, 16 years after the Scottish capital had last staged them, one of the new events was the women’s 10,000m. It was a stage ready-made for a Dundee Hawkhill athlete who had made her first steps to world class while at the University of Alabama, for whom she won the NCAA indoor mile in that same year. While the weather had been typically Scottish for the Championships, rain and gloomy conditions never being too far away, Lynch brought rich emotion to the occasion with a tremendous and emphatic victory.
What made her stand out, and it remained such a glorious trait throughout her career, was this bloody-mindedness to dominate races how she wanted. If the rest of the field wanted to follow, then they knew they would be in for a tough afternoon as the Commonwealth’s best long distance women runners discovered. Cheered on by a packed crowd at the Meadowbank Stadium, with the Blue and White flag of Scotland turning the event into a spectacularly colourful occasion, Lynch ran to victory in 31:41.42, a British record and a triumph by nearly 12 seconds with Anne Audain, of New Zealand, second in 31:53.31. It was the first of four times that McColgan would break the British record for this distance, and the lap of honour was something to behold, as Scotland celebrated their only track and field winner of the Games. She was second in the World Cross Country Championships in 1987 and smashed her best at all events from 800m to 10,000m, at which she was fifth in the World Championships in Rome in 31:19.82. Further British records at 10,000m came with 31:06.99 in 1988 and 30:57.07 in 1991.
In 1987 she married Irish international steeplechaser Peter McColgan and 12 months later, after a highly successful campaign on the roads, she took the Olympic silver medal at 10,000m in Seoul in 31:08.44 as Olga Bondarenko, of Russia, won in 31:05.21. She showed her strength once more in 1989, setting a 10km world road best of 30:38 at Orlando just a week after she had won World Indoor silver at 3000m in Budapest, having led nearly all the way, and then returning back for sixth at 1500m just 13 minutes later. In 1990, in Victoria, she retained her Commonwealth 10,000m crown, in 32:23.56, she was third in the 3000m, but her best was still to come.
Baby, What A Run
On November 25, 1990, McColgan gave birth to her first child, daughter Eilish, but by March of 1991, she was fit enough to not only compete at the World Cross Country Championships in Antwerp, but finish third, showing no signs of motherhood affecting her physical build or mental aggression. It is believed that having children can actually help the make-up of an athlete, the body’s reaction providing even more substance and on a steamy night in Tokyo at the World Championships in August, McColgan proved that theory totally correct. “It was the greatest performance by a British distance runner,” said Brendan Foster, the Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist from 1976, and now a BBC Television commentator. His words were providing a backdrop to the pictures of McColgan systematically taking apart the field in the final of the 10,000m with an astonishing front-running display which took her to the gold medal.
McColgan destroyed her opponents from the start, including defending champion, the brilliant Ingrid Kristiansen, of Norway, as she ran the first kilometre in 3:02.95. The pace rarely relented and McColgan, ignoring the tremendous humidity, won in 31:14.31, from China’s Zhong Huandi in 31:35.08 with her teammate Wang Xiuting third in 31:35.99. While that pair might have a race of their own, McColgan was in a class of her own and her performance won her the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year award. It was an honour at the end of a year where after Tokyo she won the New York Marathon in the fastest ever debut time of 2:27:32. A bold new step, and one which would signal the final part of her career.
The Roads Ahead
The marathon was her long-term aim, but first she was determined to win the Olympic title over 10,000m, but it was not to be. In Barcelona in 1992, she was fifth, unable to break the field this time, in a year where she set the world indoor 5000 record with a time of 15:03.17. But she returned to Tokyo to win their marathon in 2:27:38 and finishied third in the Flora London Marathon in 1993.
She was then injured for that summer and by 1995, she had been told she might never run again as the toil on her body looked like taking its toll, having suffered with problems in her back, her knee and her foot, but the doctors probably did not realise who they were dealing with: this was Liz McColgan. In soaring heat, in 1996 she won the Flora London Marathon and BUPA Great North Run, but again she was left disappointed at the Olympics. McColgan had chosen the Marathon, but just days before, while preparing at her base in Florida, she suffered an insect bite. The poison entered her system and she was never herself, finishing 16th at the Games in Atlanta.
In 1997, she was so close to successfully defending her London Marathon title, losing by one second to Kenya’s Joyce Chepchumba, who took victory with virtually the final step of a memorable race. But McColgan’s time of 2:26:52 was a personal best and 12 months later, she was second in London again.
Her daughter Eilish has fast been attempting to follow in the footsteps of her mother by carving out an impressive junior career and though 'mum' retired, she made a comeback and at the age of 40, in 2004, she won Scottish Cross Country and indoor titles, before finally bowing out in that year. She owns and runs three health centres in Scotland - including one in her hometown of Carnoustie - and she was chair of Scottish Athletics 2003-05. She is now a mother of five.