SHE has witnessed many nights of glory in her illustrious history but Hampden, the grand old lady of Scottish football, welcomed a rapturous athletics crowd into her bosom last night for a major rehearsal ahead of the Commonwealth Games.
The stadium, which has undergone a multimillion pound transformation for Glasgow 2014, played host to a prestigious athletics meeting featuring some of the world’s most celebrated competitors.
On a balmy summer evening, with the temperature at 21C even at 7pm, Olympic gold medallists such as Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake and Dominican hurdler Felix Sanchez took their places alongside Scottish medal hopefuls for the Sainsbury’s Glasgow Grand Prix, the first big event since Hampden’s £14 million metamorphosis was completed.
Part of the prestigious Diamond League, the evening was seen by many as a testing ground for the Games.
Although far from capacity, around 10,000 people were in attendance with the mood bolstered by pleasant conditions as well as firework displays. On the field, a world record was broken just minutes into the meeting, setting the tone.
The loudest roars of the night were reserved for Eilidh Child, the Team Scotland athlete, who won resoundingly in the women’s 400 metres hurdles. The time of 54.39 seconds was her second fastest result. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like when it comes to the Games but tonight has been just amazing,” the 27-year-old said afterwards.
Spectators described the mood as “superb” and said the evening had whetted their appetite for more elite athletics when the Commonwealth sporting spectacle begins in earnest in less than a fortnight.
“People are excited about Glasgow 2014 but this is just as big,” reasoned Katie McIvor from Renfrewshire, who was there with her son, Laurie. “Scotland hasn’t seen this many top athletes in the one place before and it’s great for Glasgow.”
Although events at Hampden during the Games will herald a far larger security and traffic operation, the showcase gave authorities the opportunity to run through its logistics.
Parking and travel restrictions were in place around the stadium, but there were few traffic issues. There was also a visible Police Scotland presence, including mounted officers patrolling the surrounding streets. By early evening, the crowds poured into the 44,000-capacity stadium to see first-hand the redeveloped arena, complete with a world-class elevated athletics track, raised 1.8 metres above the hallowed turf below.
Although it will be overshadowed by Glasgow 2014, the Diamond League event was one of the most gilded athletics meetings yet held in Scotland.
Other Olympic champions on the bill included US decathon star Ashton Eaton, Polish shot putter Tomasz Majewski and Croatian discus thrower Sandra Perkovic.
After piper Cameron Ritchie opened the evening with a rendition of Highland Cathedral, it took seven minutes for a world record in the women’s long jump, after Canadian-born Stef Reid, who won silver for Team GB at the London 2012 Paralympics, jumped 5.47 metres.
Cheering broke out just before 7pm as David Weir, the six-time Paralympic Games gold medallist, powered from third place to victory in the final lap of the men’s 1500 metres.
The highlight of the track schedule was the last event, the men’s 100 metres, featuring Blake, but other stars are due at Hampden today when the Diamond League continues, such as Olympic gold medallists Greg Rutherford, David Rushida and Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce.