Baton role brings back Games memories for Hayley

Kirkcaldy - Hayley Ovens at home -  The former Commonwealth Games athlete is carrying the Queen Baton in Auchterarder - ' FIFE PHOTO AGENCY -
Kirkcaldy - Hayley Ovens at home - The former Commonwealth Games athlete is carrying the Queen Baton in Auchterarder - ' FIFE PHOTO AGENCY -

Hayley Ovens will carry the Queen’s Baton through the streets of Auchterarder on Saturday, almost a decade after she last carried the hopes of the nation at the Commonwealth Games.

The former Balwearie High School pupil appeared in the event twice, in Manchester in 2002 and Melbourne in 2006, reaching the final of the women’s 1500 metres on both occasions.

A world class middle distance runner in her time – and one of the finest athletes Kirkcaldy has ever produced – she has been chosen as one of the baton bearers ahead of the upcoming Glasgow 2014 Games – a role that is bringing memories of her own experiences flooding back.

“It’s funny remembering it all again,” Hayley told the Press.

“Once you’ve moved on and had children it can seem like it never happened.

“Now that it’s come around again, it’s lovely to have some involvement, especially with it being on home territory.

“It will be great to savour the atmosphere.”

Hayley, now 38, first took up running at Balwearie, joining the cross-country club before teaming up with renowned local athletics coach Eric Simpson.

She gained early success, winning Scottish Schools titles, before stepping up her training with her father, Wilf Parkinson, becoming a Scottish indoor and outdoor champion on several occasions.

Hayley had an obvious talent but she was in no rush to reach the top level.

“I didn’t feel I was the most physically talented athlete ever,” she said.

“I just kept plugging away at it year on year and just gradually started training a bit harder, and a bit harder.

“I was never as obsessive as some so I didn’t get there really quick. It was over a lot of years.

“I was 26 by the time I got to my first Commonweath Games so it was a slow progression.

“I thought I trained hard when I was younger but as I got older I learned that other people trained even harder.

“Once you get start getting help from other people, like specialists in strength, nutritionists and physiotherapists, the results become better.”

With her husband, David, also involved as her manager, there was cause for all the family to celebrate when her breakthrough finally arrived in 2002 when a qualifying time of 4 minutes 12.47 seconds secured her a place in the Scottish team for the Manchester Games.

“I watched the likes of Hayley Haining and Vikki McPherson before me going to the Commonwealth Games and I was aware it was something big and special so it did eventually become a target of mine,” she said.

“I was running out of time for selection for Manchester. I had one last race I was able to run in, and I got it just in time.

“It was a really proud moment – just the mixture of your own endeavours, and how hard it was just to get qualified.”

The big change, Hayley noted, about becoming a Commonwealth Games athlete was that she had gone from competing in an individual sport, to becoming part of a team representing Scotland.

“There was a lot of hype and excitement,” she recalled.

“You’re given your Scotland tracksuits to wear and all of a sudden you wish you were a lot better than you are!

“You’re an individual on the track but at the Commonwealth Games you’re very aware that it’s a team thing and that you’re representing your country.

“People will yell ‘Go Scotland’ but they’re not talking to you personally, you just become a country for that moment in time. It’s very patriotic.

“I loved running for Great Britain, but it was special to run for Scotland, and seeing people waving all the flags.

“With that comes all the nerves and just trying to handle the whole situation and being positive but realistic about your expectations.”

In Manchester, Hayley managed to reach the final of the women’s 1500m where she finished 12th, and afterwards she contemplating retirement before finally deciding to go for Melbourne.

“I got injured in 2003 and I was aware I was getting older,” she said.

“I wanted to start a family, then my mum died and it just seemed like everything was coming to a natural end.

“Strangely I’d just ran a personal best about 10 days before my mum died, and older athletes with bit more hindsight and experience kept saying to me, it’s only another 18 months to hang onto Melbourne.

“I thought that was my mum talking - maybe a message. You can put athletics in perspective and say it’s not that important, but on the other hand it was a project we could all work on.

“As an older athlete, I was starting to get to the point where I was always picking up niggles and being on the threshold of picking up an injury and it all being a waste of time. It made Melbourne all the more special that I managed to get there in one piece.”

 In Melbourne 2006 Hayley again qualified for the women’s 1500m final, this time finishing 10th.

“I learned a lot from Manchester,” she explained.

“I was nervous and in the excitement afterwards of making it into the final I quickly downed my sports drink to try and recover, and gave myself an upset stomach.

“When I went to Melbourne four years later I used that experience to be calmer and more controlled, and although the standard was higher, I managed to get a faster time.

“Having that previous experience meant I was able to be more clinical and less caught up in the excitement and hype.”

Hayley finally hung up her spikes after Melbourne and she has since had two daughters, Holly, now aged seven, and Millie, aged four.

She is now looking forward to taking up the role of spectator in the Glasgow Games after receiving tickets, by pure coincidence, for the women’s 1500m heats.

“I was very aware in Melbourne that it was my last Games and I really tried to enjoy it,” Hayley said.

“I knew when I returned I would move onto other things - that was my special moment - now it’s someone else’s and I’m really looking forward to going watching other people.

“There are some really good youngsters in Scotland coming through now so I’m looking forward to going to watch them, and taking my children along.”