KIERAN Smith gave himself a simple choice for this summer. Get to Glasgow or get out of the country.
As far as the 20-year-old Livingston boxer was concerned, there were to be no half- measures. If he failed to qualify for the Commonwealth Games, hanging around to be a spectator was not an option. His disappointment would be so great that he would have to force the whole event out of his mind.
Fortunately for Smith, he was named yesterday as one of nine boxers who will represent Team Scotland this summer. Having done everything in his power to get into the team, including becoming Scottish champion last month, he was confident he would be picked – although he still had an anxious wait before having his place confirmed as Aston Brown, his great rival in the 75-kilogram category, appealed against his omission.
“There wasn’t any doubt in my mind after the Scottish Championships,” Smith said yesterday as the boxing team was named, along with seven para-bowlers and 14 wrestlers.
“After getting gold, I kind of knew that I was No 1. Going into the Scottish Championship final, I definitely felt I had to win that to secure my place – so that’s an example of fighting under pressure. I was putting it in my own head that if I lost I wasn’t going to be at Glasgow 2014. That’s the way I was considering it.
“So I was putting pressure on myself, saying that I needed to win just to make the team. Different people respond to pressure in different ways.
“I wouldn’t be in Glasgow when the Commonwealth Games were on if I wasn’t competing. That’s all I think about, every morning when I wake up, competing at the Games.
“I would have left the country, definitely. I would have gone on holiday, a long way away – probably out of the Commonwealth – so I didn’t have to watch the Games.”
Boxing Scotland’s selection system is points-based, meaning individual coaches or managers cannot indulge their own preferences. Even so, Smith was unable to relax entirely until learning on Tuesday that Brown’s appeal had been turned down.
“There is always maybe a little doubt in the back of your mind, so it was good to get it confirmed. The Scottish Championships wasn’t just a one-off, ‘win that and you’re qualified for the Commonwealth Games’,” said Smith, who trains at the Springhill club in Shotts under the experienced Frank Delaney.
“It’s based on the last year, with a points table, a points system based on performances in different tournaments. I was top of the points table, so winning the Scottish Championships more or less secured my place. There were a few anxious moments, thinking ‘What if?’ My dad and family were a bit more worried than me. I was thinking: ‘Why wouldn’t they send me?’
“I didn’t have to go to the appeal, I was at work – I’m an apprentice HGV mechanic, so I was actually in a lorry, fixing it, when the news came through. It was good to get confirmation, a call from the Scotland coach, telling me everything was done and dusted.
“I definitely feel sympathy for Aston. It’s the guy’s livelihood, the same as it is for me. He trains every day, the same as me. It must be heart-breaking. It would be heart-breaking for me, I’ll tell you that much.”
Having offered those words of consolation, Smith admitted there was only so much fellow-feeling he could have for someone he now regards as a former friend. It was fine when he first met Brown, and was sparring fodder for the older man. But once he became a serious rival, things began to change.
“You can’t have too much sympathy in boxing. There is no easy way in this sport. The two of us trained so hard for so long, just to get that one place. That’s how it is,” he said.
“I’ve not been in touch with Aston, he’s not been in touch with me. There has been a bit of rivalry for a while.
“Coming through the ranks, I sparred with him before the 2010 Games to help him get ready. I was brought into the senior team from the youth squad – and we were friends back then. We were friends right up until the finals of the Scottish last year, when I believed I’d won but he got the decision. Since then, it’s been gone.
“It’s sport, at the end of the day. If you’re going to be smashing each other in the face, you can’t be friends.”
As the beneficiary of the only appeal so far in any sport, Smith knows he will be under additional pressure to perform, but is not in the least bit worried by that. “Definitely there’s pressure on because of the way selection has come about – but I love pressure,” he said. “I believe I fight better under pressure.
“I don’t expect anything less than a gold medal. I put pressure on myself to achieve that, to win that gold medal. That’s what I work for.”
GOING TO THE GAMES
Aqeel Ahmed (born: Dundee) 49kg
Reece McFadden (Bellshill) 52kg
Joe Ham (Glasgow) 56kg
Charlie Flynn (Lanark) 60kg
Josh Taylor (Edinburgh) 64kg
Kieran Smith (Livingston) 75kg
Scott Forrest (Johannesburg) 81kg
Stephen Lavelle (Glasgow) 91kg
Ross Henderson (Leeds) 91+kg
Para-sport lawn bowls
Open triples: Billy Allan (Dunfermline), Kevin Wallace (Stirling), Michael Simpson (Kirkcaldy)
Mixed Pairs: Robert Conway (Glasgow), Irene Edgar (Glasgow), Ron McArthur (Motherwell, director), David Thomas (Old Windsor, director)
Brian Harper (Stirling), Ross McFarlane (Glasgow) 57kg
Viorel Etko (Gorodiste, Moldova) 61kg
Gareth Jones (Glasgow), Alex Gladkov (Lugansk, Ukraine) 65kg
Joseph Luigi Bianco (Campbell River, Canada), Lewis Waddell (Stirling) 86kg
Fiona Robertson (Irvine), Donna Robertson (Irvine) 48kg
Shannon Hawke (Stirling), Jayne Clason (Falkirk) 53kg
Chelsea Murphy (Stirling), Kathryn Marsh (York) 55kg
Sarah Jones (Edinburgh) 69kg