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Commonwealth Games: Libby Clegg a new Hampden hero

Libby Clegg of Scotland wins the gold medal in the womens para-sport 100m final T11/12. Picture: Greg Macvean

Libby Clegg of Scotland wins the gold medal in the womens para-sport 100m final T11/12. Picture: Greg Macvean

  • by STUART BATHGATE
 

FOR 20 years, no crowd at a Commonwealth Games athletics meeting had had the chance that last night’s capacity attendance at Hampden did: to belt out O Flower of Scotland with all their hearts in celebration of a Scottish victory.

And they took that chance as if every one of them had been waiting for every day of those two decades, raising the roof to celebrate Libby Clegg’s victory in the T12 100 metres.

Yvonne Murray was the last Scot to win track-and-field gold at the Games, in the 10,000m in Victoria, in 1994. She had countrymen aplenty in the stadium that afternoon, and the Canadian crowd cheered her on with affection. But there was nothing like the raptures that greeted Clegg and her guide runner Mikail Huggins as they crossed the line in 12.20 seconds.

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Clegg, who is registered blind, was only four when that last athletics gold medal was won, and thousands in last night’s audience were not even born. They had the chance not only to witness something that had not happened in the previous four Games, but also something that had only ever occurred once before: the winning of a 33rd medal in a single Games by the Scottish team.

Until last night, that record haul was held only by the team that competed in Melbourne eight years ago – and that total was only reached at the end of the competition.

This year, Team Scotland have won those 33 medals before the Games are halfway through. They had already bettered the record of 12 gold medals earlier in the day, in the bowls. Last night Clegg made it 13, and there is surely more to come in the remaining six days of competition.

After recording the fastest time in the morning’s heats by more than a second, Clegg was established as the hottest of favourites for the race, and she did not disappoint. Maria Muchavo of Mozambique was runner-up, more than a second behind in 13.33, and Lahja Ishitile of Namibia took bronze in 13.48.

It was as comprehensive a victory as you are likely to see in a race of such distance, and in retrospect it may have looked inevitable.

But only a few weeks ago, at the same venue, Clegg looked anything but assured of Commonwealth victory when she came third in a Diamond League race.

She had been disappointed then, despite running a season’s best, but last night was virtually delirious after her win, allowing her lap of honour to go on for nearly half an hour as she was stopped every step of the way to be congratulated by friends and total strangers alike.

“It feels incredible,” she said once she had finally left the track. “It was an absolutely fantastic experience and I loved every second of it.

“I was completely aware of the crowd. They were just phenomenal: the cheer they gave us was just amazing, really uplifting and it definitely helped our performance. I felt a little bit of pressure, but nothing too major.

“I was a little bit nervous this morning in the heat, but as soon as my name was announced the crowd started cheering for me and I started laughing and I felt really good.

“Loads of people came to congratulate me [after the race]. I met two people from school, my mum, my boyfriend, my dad, sponsors. I saw my boyfriend’s uncle Tommy, who comes to every race. Mikail had all his family and loads of his friends here.”

Told that she was the first Scottish track gold medallist for 20 years, she added: “I didn’t realise that. That’s pretty special, oh my god, that is amazing.”

“It’s completely different from the Para-Olympics or the World Championships or anything. Just the amount of support we’ve got from everyone tonight has just been unbelievable.”

Englishman Huggins said: “I’m proud to be on the podium. The people of Scotland have been great to me. We’re a team. We did it together. She’s incredible,” he said of his running partner.

“Each year, she seems to come out and produce the goods when it matters. All that training we put in, all that time we spend together, to come out here and perform in front of her home crowd – it shows that she is an elite athlete.”

Clegg continued: “We did the lap of honour together because we’re a team. It signified our unity as a team.

“The atmosphere will affect you. To use it to your benefit, you have to soak it up. People just want to see you perform. I’ve lapped up every second of this.”

After Erraid Davies’s bronze medal in the pool on Sunday night, this was another vindication for the integration into the Games programme of the para sport events.

“‘It’s absolutely amazing for para sports,” Clegg added. “Scotland have been amazing – we’ve had the most para sports in any Games that has ever been.

“And it’s an integrated programme - we’re not the before or after. It’s just amazing to be a part of it. People don’t care that it’s a disability race, it’s just a race to them. That shows how much Paralympic sports have come on, they’ve made leaps and bounds in recent years.”

Clegg had so many people to speak to on her lap of honour that she had still not left the track by the time the final of the men’s T37 100m took place. Scotland’s Jason MacLean was up against it with the slowest personal best in the field, but he acquitted himself well with another PB of 12.93sec in the final to claim fifth place.

South African Fanie van der Merwe took gold in a time of 11.65, ahead of countryman Charl du Toit (11.89) and Wales’s Rhys Jones, winner of the bronze medal in 12.04.

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