STEPHEN Mackenzie has set his sights on leaping to a new best when he faces the continent’s top age group athletes this week.

The 17-year-old long jumper, of Pitreavie AAC, is one of eight Scots that are representing Great Britain at the European Athletics Under-20 Championships, which began yesterday (Thursday) in Borås, Sweden.

In qualifying, a jump of 7.30 metres saw him qualify from Group 'B' for tonight's final, which will feature a total of 12 athletes, including fellow Scot, Alessandro Schenini.

Mackenzie joined Pitreavie at the beginning of the indoor season despite being based in Ullapool, 195 miles and almost a four-hour drive away.

Adding to the geography challenge, his coach, Linda Nicholson, is based a further hour or so south in Peebles.

He smiled: “It’s hard with all the travelling, especially from Ullapool, but you have to travel everywhere so you get used to it!”

Mackenzie sealed his place in the GB team after winning the England Athletics Under-20 Championships last month, which included trials for the European competition.

He then jumped at the annual Mannheim Gala, held on the last weekend in June, and said: “It was good to have a first international competition before the Euros to tweak a few things.

“I was able to meet some nice people but it was far too hot – this Scottish boy was not used to temperatures in the high 30s!

“I hadn’t competed for GB before so it was good to see what it was like, how I would cope under pressure, and to see how I would perform. I think I did well – it was my third best jump ever (7.49m) – so that was good.”

Before leaving for the European championships, he said: “There’s a lot of excitement about it. I’ve been trying to stay fresh as I’ve had a hard few weeks of competition. In June, it’s almost like it’s one after the other.

“I started the outdoor season at the Scottish East District Open with a 7.44 (metre jump), but Loughborough (International Athletics, where he represented Scotland) was a bit of a disaster.

“I usually jump decent at internationals, so I was quite annoyed, but it got me going and gave me more determination.

“I went to England and got the (qualifying) standard. That was my target this year and I’ve achieved it. I’m looking forward to the Euros.”

He continued: “I want to get a PB. As long as the track’s good and the conditions are good, then I hope I can achieve it.

“It will be quite heated, and 7.59m is my best going into it, but it means I’ve got to step up more.”

While going for glory on the European stage is at the forefront of his mind, Mackenzie hopes a good performance can be a launchpad to next year’s World Under-20 Championships, adding: “I’ll still be an under-20 athlete so I’ll be trying to go to the worlds next year, or try and get as close as I can.”

The European championships run until Sunday.