In the course of researching for my next book I came across the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame. Established in 2002, the hall of fame ‘celebrates and pays tribute to Scotland’s iconic sports men and women from the past 100 years, and inspires future generations’. The aims are noble and – as it led by sportscotland, ‘the national agency for sport’ – it has credibility. In total, 26 sports are represented, from the more obvious Scottish pursuits of football, golf and rugby to the minority sports of shooting, table tennis and water polo.
Furthermore, the list recognises the sports that define what it is to be Scottish and to live in Scotland: curling, Highland games, mountaineering and hillwalking, and shinty.
There is an anomaly, however.
Yes, it is a minority sport – a little over 4000 people took part in at least one race in the Scottish Hill Racing calendar – in 2015.
But this sport is as typically Scottish as curling, shinty and Highland Games – and is essentially a development of mountaineering and hillwalking. This is a sport that has existed in Scotland since the eleventh century and is practised across the country, from the Highlands and islands, to the city centre of Edinburgh and the Borders. And this is a sport, like the 100-metre sprint in athletics, that very many people can empathise with. I would pity the child who has not run up or down a hill, feeling the burning breathlessness of an ascent and the joyful freedom of a descent. It is a rite of passage. Arguably, hill running is the nation’s national minority sport.
But – seemingly – not one of its representatives is deemed eligible for the hall of fame.
Perturbed, I contacted sportscotland. A response was immediate and emphatic. Hill runners had not been nominated, and since the process of adding names to the hall of fame is done by nomination, there were no hill runners on the list. The panel would happily accept nominations, I was told.
I am not a historian of Scottish hill running, but obvious names emerge, firstly those pre-eminent in the current era.
- Finlay Wild: five-time winner of Scotland’s oldest hill race, Ben Nevis; fastest to complete traverses of the Cuillin ridge on Skye in summer and winter.
- Robbie Simpson: bronze medallist in the 2015 World Mountain Running Championships.
The hill running journeys of Wild and Simpson continue to be forged, however. Further greatness awaits. Ironically, as Simpson seeks the Olympic qualifying time as a marathoner in Rio, the prodigious hill runner may soon be better known as a road runner.
There are, therefore, two more logical candidates.
- Angela Mudge: world champion in 2000; multiple winner of British and Scottish championships; course record holder for at least 30 Scottish hill races.
- Colin Donnelly: talented, prolific and – like Mudge – blessed with extraordinary longevity. As the comprehensive Scottish Distance Running History website puts it, ‘Colin Donnelly was British Fell-Running Champion three times in the late 1980s. In the WMRA World Mountain Running Trophy, he represented Scotland in eighteen successive races between 1985 and 2002 (plus another one in 2004): an almost unbelievable record. Colin’s greatest run, which displayed exceptional descending skills, secured a silver medal in the 1989 men’s individual short race at Chatillon-en-Diois, France. In addition, he was in the Scottish team (Tommy Murray, Bobby Quinn, Colin Donnelly and Graeme Bartlett) that won silver medals in 1995 (Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh).’
So there are potential nominees, but why haven’t they been nominated?
I was interviewing a hill runner recently who did not want to be recorded. ‘I’m an introvert,’ he declared. ‘That’s why I am a hill runner.’
Is that the problem? A hill running community too ‘introvert’ to nominate? Or perhaps they don’t care? Perhaps they have never heard of the hall of fame? I imagine Mudge and Donnelly would be indifferent to nomination even if it occurred. But representation on the hall of fame isn’t necessarily about them or other individuals, but about the sport.
And surely the great tradition of the wild and wonderful pursuit of hill running in Scotland deserves better?