Guy Learmonth: Scot puts personal trauma aside in European Indoors medal bid

Guy Learmonth at Glasgow 2014
Learmonth finished sixth at the 2014 Commonwealth Games before family bereavements affected him
European Indoor Championships
Venue: Belgrade, Serbia Dates: 3-5 March
Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two, Connected TV, Red Button and the BBC Sport website. Full details and times

Scottish 800m runner Guy Learmonth says he's "come through the other side" after suffering a series of personal tragedies which affected his career.

Learmonth is one of six Scots heading to the European Indoor Championships, which get under way on Friday.

But a place on the British team was a long way off two years ago when he was struggling to find the form which saw him make the Commonwealth Games final.

After those 2014 Games in Glasgow, the 24-year-old's life was thrown into turmoil, with the 18 months that followed difficult to endure.

"Straight after my Commonwealth Games final, I got a phone call from my big brother basically saying my papa was dying of cancer," Learmonth told BBC Scotland.

"He'd been seriously ill for a good few months but my whole family had kept it from me with the Commonwealths coming up.

"I was part of the 4x400m relay squad, so after my 800m final I was getting ready for that. But then my brother called to say Papa was dying and that he wasn't going to be here after the closing ceremony, so he asked if I wanted to go and see him."

Learmonth packed his bags and immediately left the athletes' village, missing the relay so he could say goodbye to his mother's father.

"I just managed to see him before he passed away. He died through that night."

Learmonth at Indoor champs in Prague 2015
Learmonth competed for GB at the 2015 European Indoor Championships

Unfortunately for Learmonth, more tragedy was around the corner.

One of his good friends was involved in a serious car accident and was fighting for his life in a coma. The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Then his grandfather (his father's dad) died just before Christmas 2014.

This all happened in the space of three months, but Learmonth kept on training and competing through the adversity.

"I just kept rolling with the punches, I kept on racing and 2015 was a mixed bag," he recalled. "I won my first British indoor title in 2015 and I ran well in the Europeans (Indoor Championships) in Prague, but there was lots of personal stuff going on in my life, and I had a few wee injuries, so I didn't really get what I wanted out of it."

Learmonth, training out of Loughborough University, also had a fall-out with his coach. Coupled with the build-up of events from the end of 2014, it had a fairly disastrous effect on his 2016 season.

"2016 was a disaster, just plagued with various injuries, which culminated in the hamstring injury at the Olympic trials last summer.

"It really was a combination of everything sort of bubbling up. It started off with personal problems and family bereavements and it just kind of spread on to affecting me on the track and training - it was a downhill spiral."

Guy Learmonth reflects on a disappointing run at the 2016 British Indoor Championships
Learmonth says his 2016 season "was a disaster"

Despite his troubles, quitting the sport never entered Learmonth's thoughts.

"I had two choices, let it defeat me or overcome it. And I was determined more than anything to overcome everything that was thrown at me.

"I did consider taking a step back, but I thought if I did that then I'll never get back to where I was, and I would live the rest of my life with all these ifs."

'I'll fight to the bitter end for a medal'

He left his coach in Loughbrough and headed home to Berwick-upon-Tweed late last year. He's not looked back.

Learmonth started working again with his former coach Henry Gray, who he says "picked up the pieces" and "believed in him."

He's now running better than ever, with three indoor personal bests already this season, not to mention a British indoor 800m title last month.

Guy Learmonth celebrates being crowned British indoor champion in February 2017
Learmonth was crowned British indoor champion over 800m last month

No wonder he has "a new love for the sport again" as he heads to Belgrade full of confidence and determination.

"I've been told off in the past for saying I'm going to do this, that and the other. But I really do want a medal and I'll fight to the bitter end for one.

"I want to take it to the next level now and really start giving these other athletes around Europe a real run for their money."

If he does achieve his medal target, his late grandparents won't be far from his thoughts.

"I always think about them, they were always proud of me," he added. "It's a shame they are not here to see the athlete that I've turned into, but hopefully they'll be looking down."

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