IN THE third edition of this series looking back at the year’s sporting action, Aidan Smith remembers the magical summer even that was the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games, while Moira Gordon recalls Great Britain’s success and failures at the Winter Olympics.
Event was ‘the greatest ever’ as was Scots medal tally
There was the look of gasping panic, as if this competitor had just become aware that she’d left the house without her purse, her shoes or maybe even her knickers.
There was the look of schoolboy astonishment, as if a snowball hurled the length of the playground couldn’t possibly locate the headmaster’s bald spot but – boggly eyes, blown-out cheeks, bloody hell – it was a direct hit.
There was the cry of “For freedom!” followed by a crashing bow wave which rippled across social media, political debate, front pages and – we’d like to think – might even have trickled all the way to the pool in the mansion grounds of America’s most conflicted Australian, Mel Gibson.
And there was that meltingly cute 13-year-old smile which seemed to say: “What’s going on? Is it Christmas or something? Why is everyone looking at me and cheering? What do you mean I’ve won a medal? Oh crikey. Mum!”
Give yourself a gong if you correctly identified these to be the immediate post-race reactions of Hannah Miley, Ross Murdoch, Dan Wallace and Erraid Davies. They’re imprinted in the collective consciousness now, having joined Kenny Dalglish’s rosy-cheeked beamer and Andy Murray’s gaunt heavenwards gaze in the picture-reel of Scottish sport’s decisive moments which we’ll never tire of re-running.
And these were just our swimming successes in Glasgow and not at all of them either. Scotland won 53 golds, silvers and bronzes at its own Commonwealth Games, clinching fourth place in the medal table as the crowds streamed out of the venues, followed the Clyde for a bit, waved last farewells to the volunteers and headed home for good. Some of us didn’t want the endeavour, excellence and fun to end, even though Usain Bolt finally being won round and posing for a world-record number of selfies seemed like the perfect sign-off. By common consent the Games had been fantastic. “The best ever,” declared Prince Imran of Malaysia, chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation, at the closing ceremony. He went further: as they say down Kuala Lumpur way, Glasgow 2014 had been “pure dead brilliant”. Funny to think now some of us weren’t exactly sure we wanted the sporting spectacular to begin…
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
John Barrowman, the Loch Ness Monster, a hundred camp shipbuilders an’ a’ an’ a’ a’. This sounds like the cast of a musical called Revenge of the Giant Teacakes, which is exactly what the opening ceremony resembled, somewhere at the mystery intersection of the Forth Bridge, the Swilcan Bridge and Dolly the Sheep’s Roslin Institute, until the evening took on a more traditional form with the teams parading round Celtic Park. And after Sir Chris Hoy declared the baton open – unscrewing the top proved tricky after its journey via 71 countries and 118,000 miles – the Queen was able to declare the Games open.
Most likely the baton got gummed up by the weather. Well, we’re famous for the rotten, blustery, wet stuff, even in July. Not this July, though. On the first day of competition, brilliant sunshine blazed down on Strathclyde Country Park and triathlon super-siblings Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, rarely letting up. “Taps” were well and truly “aff”.
The Brownlees are class acts, tougher than teacakes, and they made it to Glasgow. Mo Farah didn’t and for a moment we were worried. The anxiety lasted, oh, all of 0.85 seconds, the length of time it took for a Clydesider to smile and point us in the direction of another sporting attraction, maybe something we’d never seen before. And this football-daft city duly embraced netball, got into table tennis, loved weightlifting.
From the off, Scotland’s trophy cabinet glistened like the weather. Ten medals were won on Day 1, four of them gold including Miley, Murdoch and judo’s Renicks sisters, Louise and Kimberley. There was a cheeky jibe about Glasgow organising the Games to suit themselves, that a judo contest among Commonwealth nations lacked credibility. Come off it. This wasn’t caber-tossing or sword-dancing. Or routine aggressiveness, something Glasgow is supposed to be famous for. An additional medal should have been struck for the city’s hosting of the Games, for its warmth, friendliness and humour. But 13 medals from the dojo – a Scottish record for a single sport – made for a great pyjama party. The judo was gripping in every sense.
The Games now had all of Scotland enthralled. The sunny weather, the early successes and the fact it was the weekend brought even bigger crowds desperate to see something, anything. Rugby at Ibrox? The last few tickets for the sevens tournament were quickly snapped up. Scotland didn’t manage to win it and in South Africa’s eventual triumph some tiny lands took a bit of a hammering. But a city where victories – on the football field at least – are expected and must after a while get a bit boring showed its generosity of spirit in cheering for underdogs at every venue, whether they were trounced, lapped or left half-drowning.
Hampden was shrunk, raised and reconfigured into a superb arena for athletics and Libby Clegg won a para-sprint gold. Meanwhile over at Kelvingrove, the Games’ first folk hero was taking his bow. Well, to be honest, the gesture was more commonly interpreted as “Get it right up yez”. Alex Marshall – nicknamed “Tattie” – got rather too excited about a victory over England and, with the judo over, the questing Commy Games enthusiast had a new favourite sport – bowling. As with the judo there were plenty of golds to savour and “Tattie for First Minister” banners were hoisted round the greens.
The second folk hero was straight out of Central Casting, or Central Station Casting. Pint-sized, carrot-topped and with a great line in patter, Charlie “The Mailman” Flynn beat all-comers to the lightweight boxing title and amused everyone else with his yarns about the postal sorting depot, being careful to thank his mum for the laundry work – “mah wah-shin’”.
In the gymnastics the Dans, Purvis and Keatings, won medals through their power and grace but the outstanding individual performance in that sport, indeed all 18 sports, was Claudia Fragapane’s four golds. In all, England won 174 medals, 58 of them gold, to finish on top of the heap for the first time since 1986. Scotland’s haul was our biggest ever. There would be no more golds at Hampden to add to the 19 won already, there and elsewhere, but plenty of thrills as Eilidh Child in the 400m hurdles and Lynsey Sharp in the 800m took stunning silvers, the latter having refused to let an injury-plagued season or the fact she was on a drip and vomiting the night before stop her producing the run of her life. Usain Bolt produces brilliance just about every time. It’s not his fault he can do it without appearing to try. His remark about Glasgow being “a bit s**t” seemed to refer to the weather, which had turned – nevertheless you wondered how a city with a “Go on, impress us” attitude was going to react when he finally took to the track, in conditions which had turned some more.
Well, he ran, got wet, cavorted in a comedy tam o’ shanter, and the crowd – aware they weren’t watching Des O’Connor at the Pavilion – lauded his greatness. Job done, Commy Games saved. By Scotland, for a third time.
British success in Sochi – but only tears for souvenirs for Christie
Great Britain sent 56 athletes to compete across 11 sports but millions watched at home as Scots again proved themselves on the curling rink and the
British won medals on the snow and ice of Sochi.
But it was a Games that will long be remembered for more than simply the achievements of those who paraded precious metal around their neck at the closing ceremony. This was a Games overshadowed by protests about the host nation’s homophobia, the Twitter trolling that hit poor Elise Christie while she was down and the cringeworthy commentary which celebrated the mishaps of others and bombarded viewers with innuendo and whacky metaphors.
Christie, the speed skater from Livingston, had travelled to Russia with high hopes of at least one medal but, having made the final of the 500m, she was disqualified after colliding with Italian Arianna Fontana.
If that wasn’t heart-breaking enough, South Korean fans also accused her of causing their star Park Seung-Hi to fall and subjected her to venomous abuse on Twitter, forcing her to close her account.
Worse followed two days after that first disqualification when she was ejected from the 1,500m heats after it was judged she had not crossed the line, leaving everything resting on the 100m. But having impressed in the heats and quarter-final, she was penalised yet again when she collided with China’s Jianrou Li on the final turn of her semi-final, leaving her with nothing but tears for souvenirs.
Christie’s countrywomen were able to turn their disappointment into success, though, as Eve Muirhead led her team to bronze in the curling, bouncing back from the devastation of losing out to Canada in the semi-finals 24 hours earlier.
There were tears of joy after Muirhead played a perfect final stone in the final end to tip a nerve-wracking match against Switzerland in GB’s favour.
The men went one better, playing superbly to make the final but coming up short against the Canadians, with David Murdoch and his rink having to settle for silver.
But if there was drama on the ice, on the snow there was razzamatazz. The high octane craziness of the snowboard cross had people transfixed but it was in the women’s slopestyle that Jenny Jones delivered bronze for Team GB. After 90 years of waiting (and ignoring the medal many in these parts still attribute to Alain Baxter) it was Britain’s first Winter Games medal on snow.
But it was tarnished slightly by the BBC commentary which attracted hundreds of complaints when those in charge of the mics cheered when her medal rivals fell and acknowledged their own unprofessionalism but continued on regardless. It simply wasn’t cricket old sport.
It transpired that it also wasn’t GB’s only medal on snow, with skier Kelly Gallagher and her guide, Charlotte Evans, winning paralympics gold in the Super-G.
On snow and on ice Great Britain and Northern Ireland athletes delivered but it’s still on a tea tray where our real expertise rests, with Lizzy Yarnold taking gold in the skeleton to maintain Britain’s record of medalling in the event every year since it was introduced to the Games. She had the fastest time in each of the four runs and set new track records in her first and third run. That put her well ahead of her nearest rival but meant that while her achievement was extremely impressive, in the end it was slightly anti-climatic.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS