AT a Commonwealth Games where Team Scotland has already surpassed its record medal haul, Stephen McGinty discovers a city enamoured of its athletes, Scottish or otherwise
“Bullets? Guns? Knives? No sir? Happy Days.” Security is so tight at the Commonwealth Games that the military in charge of each entry check point can’t help but crack the occasional joke, though a member of the public would be ill-advised to follow suit, lest they wind up at the wrong end of a rubber glove. Yet such is the joie de vivre that has percolated around the city in the past six days that the ‘Glasgow Smile’ has been given a wholesome rebrand. I’ve never before seen so many delighted displays of orthodontics. In the streets close to Hampden Park the Langside Dental and Implant centre is positively beaming as it displays two giant Scotland flags, two giant lion rampant and a string of saltires. One street further on AG Glamour, Battlefield’s local beautician, has strung all the coloured flags of the Commonwealth across their frontage and are offering customers a discount on a ‘World Class blow dry’ and ‘Gold Medal Nails’. If track and field is the beating heart of the Commonwealth Games then tonight the tarmac ventricles leading there were packed with delighted members of the public as well as future competitors.
Jasmine Trapnell, 12, a budding Jessica Ennis, has travelled from Milton Keynes with her mother Karen to spend two days at Hampden and found herself by chance sitting next to her friend and fellow competitor Isobel Blake, 11 and her mother. “It’s great. I love it” said Jasmine who admitted imagining herself on the track in four years time. “It’s been a fantastic few days but we’ve yet to see an English gold yet,” said her mother. Audiences at Commonwealth Games events are divided between those, like the Trapnells who know exactly what’s going on and the rest of us who, frankly, haven’t a clue.
In the hour or so before the evening athletics kicked off at Hampden staff and volunteers were focused on important last minute adjustments such as securing as many selfies on the winner’s podium as possible and chasing Clyde, our city’s new anthropomorphic thistle around the track. In a rather surreal sight, Clyde later raced the Virgin branded remote controlled trucks having first threatened to kick one of them off the track. Clyde won. We now know that a giant thistle can outrun Virgin broadband, a feature unlikely to appear in Richard Branson’s latest advertising campaign.
When the Games get under way you quickly learn the participatory etiquette. For instance during the javelin we all clap, slowly at first then building up the pace as each competitor runs and prepares to throw. As soon as the giant steel arrow is airborne we all immediately stop clapping and go: “ooooooooooHHHHHHHH”. At the same time as the men are hurling huge pins, the women are hurling themselves into an immaculately raked sandpit. Although no two competitors are hurling javelins or themselves at exactly the same time, it does have a discombobulating effect like the spectator equivalent of simultaneously patting your head and rubbing your stomach.
Just as I attempt to steady myself a familiar face walks past. It is Sebastian Coe, who chaired London 2012 and whose slightly mournful countenance I read as mild jealousy at Glasgow’s current success which would certainly be a first. Yet no sooner had I digested the javelin, the triple jump and Seb Coe’s imagined jealousy than the 10,000 metre women’s final was about to begin. Beth Potter of Team Scotland gets the biggest cheer of the evening, one which echoes out with every lap as she keeps doggedly up with the Kenyan leaders and then suddenly overtakes them to lead at the 21 minute mark.
It doesn’t last more than a lap before Potter begins to fall back but in that one lap - a lap in which a Scot is leading the world’s finest - the audience can’t help but swell with pride and conjure images of ‘what if?”
The last 100 metres in which Potter battled to hold on to fourth place and then lost by a tenth of a second to England’s Kate Avery had every Scot out of their seats to cheer her on. Afterwards in a magical scene both Potter and Avery took a lap of honour running side by side draped respectively in the saltire and St George both brandishing broad ‘Glasgow Smiles’.
Winding their way home tonight, weary but happy were the be-kilted Reilly boys - a clan that consisted of dad Leslie carrying Calum, three, on his shoulders while Paul Francois, five, and Leslie the younger, seven-and-a-half, walked behind all three brandishing their saltires. Leslie explained that the youngest couldn’t work out how Clyde, the Games mascot, could be in so many places at once. “The whole event has been so uplifting. It’s been brilliant for Glasgow and for Scotland. You know I do think this could help us break the ribbon at the referendum.” And then he too smiles.