Much was said about legacy when the Commonwealth Games came to Glasgow in 2014, and while people can argue the success of that in various different sports, in terms of participation numbers or investment, in the realms of credibility and coaching, the clear by-product of those Games is a greater self-belief within Team Scotland.
With the most bountiful medal haul ever, the athletes laid a solid foundation in Glasgow. And while some of the sports that served up the baubles on home soil have been sidelined for the latest staging, in Australia next year, and a few household names have seen their stock dwindle or decided to retire, Scottish ambitions remain lofty. While bettering the 53-medal tally of the most recent home Games is far from realistic, the target is to improve on the highest return from an overseas event.
The qualification process was launched in January and, so early in the year, no specific tally has been settled on, with injuries and form still to be factored in. But Paul Bush, pictured below, chair of Commonwealth Games Scotland, said: “We are looking to build on our best ever medal tally from Glasgow and are aiming to have our most successful overseas Games.
“We believe this is a realistic and ambitious target, given that there are largely the same sports as on the 2006 programme and at the same time of year. The challenges will include no judo [replaced by basketball] where we won 13 medals in 2014 and the fact that for sports like athletics and swimming, an April Games is extremely early in the season.”
That 2006 tally was 29 medals – 11 golds, seven silver and 11 bronze. But overseas Games are historically tricky for the British nations given the fact they usually fall outwith the ‘normal’ competitive season, and the lack of input into the schedule outwith the preordained ten core sports. But there is a confidence that despite the omission of judo, which proffered 13 of the podium places in Glasgow, and the retirement of previous high-profile standard bearers, the nation is up to the challenge of maintaining an elevated presence on the medal table. Much of that belief has come from increasingly tough qualifying criteria, ensuring that those who are granted team tracksuits also accept a weight of responsibility to deliver on their potential. In that respect, the selection criteria have become more demanding.
According to Commonwealth Games Scotland, “the general selection standards will require athletes to meet a minimum performance level of a top six or top half of the field performance [whichever is the tighter] in the Commonwealth.”
And while they will work to gain representation across all 18 sports, with all individual sports featuring Scottish representation of up to four athletes, all competitors will travel with a realistic chance of contesting finals rather than simply flying the flag. That means that brutal decisions will be made when it comes to team sports, should they fail to qualify on merit, with only the best performing of either the men’s and women’s teams in each sport likely to go.
The toughening up of selection standards has been pivotal to the upsurge in medal wins in recent Games and, combined with the greater funding assistance over the last few Games cycles, have delivered rewards. But the size of the team is likely to drop from around 310 athletes in Glasgow to approximately 220 for the trip down under.
“That is significantly smaller than for Glasgow, where we had access to host nation places, and [is also due to] the fact that the Commonwealth Games Federation has now introduced an athlete quota system to cap the overall numbers,” explained Bush. “However, we believe our plans are well on track and already we are seeing some exciting Scottish performances as athletes bid to meet the rigorous selection standards.
“Overall we are confident we will have a strong and highly motivated team and we are looking forward to what we are sure will be a fantastic Games in Gold Coast next year.”
In Melbourne, swimming kick-started the medal rush, with a glut of podium finishes in the opening few days. It injected the whole camp with the feelgood factor and gave every other sport something to live up to.
Stalwarts such as Robbie Renwick have retired but alongside household names like multiple Commonwealth medallist Hannah Miley and Ross Murdoch et al, there is a clutch of young hopefuls looking to establish themselves as serious contenders. Duncan Scott medalled in Rio as part of the relay team, while Kathleen Dawson and Mark Szeranek will use the upcoming British Championships to gauge their chances.
But it is in athletics where the shortfall caused by judo’s absence could be made up. The likes of Eilidh Doyle and Lynsey Sharp will lead by example, having been there, done it and got the medals but they will be ably assisted by others who have come of age on the track and on the road since Glasgow.
Barring injuries and setbacks, Laura Muir will be a force to be reckoned with, while current form suggests that Andrew Butchart, and our marathon runners, headed by Callum Hawkins, will feature in the Scottish medal game plan.
The big question mark will be how they cope with peaking in March instead of the traditional summer athletics tournaments. In that regard, Scotland need to have their best contenders in their best form and they need to have them all there. In Delhi in 2010, many cyclists opted to stay at home for the World Championships, with funding and qualifying for GB Olympic places in mind. That could impact, if stars like Callum Skinner and Katie Archibald make a similar decision this time.
This time, though, there is an excitement and a desire to deliver. Those who sampled Glasgow want another taste, some want to improve but with a year to go, they all want to be there, and the work to ensure that is already underway.