18th July 2020


For 400m hurdler Chris McAlister 2019 was a certified success story as he lowered his personal best for fun and announced himself on the international stage and among the world’s top 14.

McAlister began the year just over three tenths outside the 50-second barrier but would end it less than two tenths shy of 48 seconds and having represented the British team twice and Europe once. His charge began in June in Geneva when his 50.36 personal best was lowered below 50 seconds to 49.92 and less than a month later, back in Switzerland, he took 0.3 off to clock 49.62.

Switzerland was proving a happy hunting ground for the Thames Valley Harrier as at the start of August in Luzern he lowered his PB for the third time in five races, this time stopping the clock at 49.39. Such performances afforded him a British debut at the European Team Championships in Poland and it was in Bydgoszcz where McAlister really made his mark with a 49.28 run in the final for a World Championship qualifying standard.

McAlister would go on to earn selection for the British team for those World Championships in Doha, recording a fifth PB for 2019 on his maiden global appearance as he reached the semi-finals and ranked 14th overall with a fine run of 49.18.

Having taken 1.18 seconds off his PB in 2019 and been offered membership onto the British Athletics World Class Programme for the first time, the arrival of Olympic year in 2020 offered hope for the 24-year-old.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put that hope on hold not just for McAlister, as well as every other track and field athlete looking to impress this year, but he believes he can keep improving.

McAlister said: “It [Doha] was hard to target when you’re a second away, it was just a dream. I just built into the season and it kept snowballing. Sub-50 was my target for the season. I knew I was capable but to get it so early allowed me to push on.

“I have always felt like I could rise to the occasion and compete on the day and it was a nice to get out there [in Doha] and execute nicely. The minimum expectation was to get through the heat and once I had done that I was free to let the shackles off and run my heart out in the semi – that was a nice feeling. It was a big stadium and a nice track, it would have been rude not to.

“It was a good example of what I want to do in the future seasons, just build up and build up and try and achieve those qualifying times gradually and then to get to the big comps. I have had the taste and I want more and more.

“You put your mind in perspective a little bit more when you go to these things. You think that everyone that is there is a level above you and that you’ll never achieve it and as soon as you achieve it and get there you’re like these guys are actually just like me.

“So now I’m thinking I do belong on this stage and I can run the times. I do dream quite a bit – I am optimistic about what I can do in the sport – and that is just from looking at my own performances. I see things I can improve and have an idea of how much I can improve by.”

McAlister had a short run out over the flat 400m during the indoor season before the Covid-19 pandemic brought athletics to a halt but, with restrictions now easing, he has returned to the track.

He races over the flat 400m in Nuneaton at the weekend and is hoping for a short block of races, including the Müller British Athletics Championships set to be held in Manchester at the start of September.

The qualification window for the Tokyo Olympic Games has been suspended, so times won’t count towards securing a place on the British team, but McAlister believes competing this season can act as a slingshot for 2021 when performances really do matter.

He added: “I need to go a bit quicker to get the qualifier. I want to get that in as early as possible but I know it will take a few races next season to get up to that speed. I will brush off the cobwebs this year and get going for next year early on.

“I am going to try and see what races we can get. I would love a block of about four or five weeks where I can get five or six races in and build up that momentum and get a good time and get some experience and learn where I am at and what I need to work on. If I can get out and compete as much as I can, then I find out a lot about how I respond to those conditions.”

While McAlister’s progress in 2019 was significant, 2018 shouldn’t be discounted either as he took 0.52 off his personal best to finish the year with 50.36. And he has achieved everything so far while working for the civil service.

He added: “I knew I wanted to get to this level since I started athletics. It is why I got into it because I wanted to take it seriously and progress as quickly as I could. It has been really enjoyable to see the progression and I hope it can keep going

“I have got my eyes on a few things I want to improve still, there is lots more to come hopefully. I still do it as a hobby with the work and stuff on the side. It still feels like a hobby and I go out and have fun at training. I see my mates and enjoy the competitions and the travel.

“The civil service are good with special leave. It is enjoyable and takes my mind off the training and if things are going badly or I am feeling tight or tired I can take my mind off it with work which is a really nice escape.”