6 Scottish Olympic medal hopefuls talk Rio 2016

Jamie Murray. Picture: Getty

Jamie Murray. Picture: Getty

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2016 is all about the Olympics for Scotland’s sports elite. Here, we catch up with six of our medal hopefuls

Jamie Murray

Tennis

AFTER a year where he celebrated his place in the history books as a key member of the victorious GB Davis Cup team and twice knocked on the door of a Grand Slam title, Jamie Murray is looking to ensure 2016 is even better.

Having agreed an amicable parting of the ways with John Peers, his doubles partner for the past three years, he will now hook up with former world No. 3 Bruno Soares in the hope he can take the next step and add a men’s doubles title to the Wimbledon mixed doubles triumph he enjoyed in 2007.

They will get things going this week, at the Qatar Exxonmobil Open, in Doha, and Murray is hoping they can click quickly and allow him to build on the successes of the past 12 months. For me, I had my best year ever in 2015 and got my ranking into the top 10 [he is ranked seventh going into the new year] and with the two grand slam finals and the Davis Cup as well, but I am hoping that with the change I can reach greater heights and I can win a grand slam title with Bruno.”

But 2016 offers him other incentives, with the Rio Olympics presenting the chance to go for a place on the podium.

“The Olympics is something else to look forward to. It is special because it only comes around every four years, so you don’t get many opportunities to be part of them. This will, hopefully, be my third but, being honest, I haven’t made the most of them so far. Because the last one was in London, we all just stayed at home and I lost my first game , so it didn’t even feel like I had had an Olympics.

“Hopefully, I will be playing with Andy in Rio and I think that helps because very few of the top players will be playing with their regular partners, so we will have a slight advantage because we have played together so much growing up and this year we have come through some tough matches together in the Davis Cup in 2015. It would be nice if I could make my mark at an Olympics and have that to look back on when I finish my career.”

David Florence

Canoeing

IF 2015 was all about qualifying, David Florence’s focus for 2016 is on trying to win gold at this summer’s Rio Olympic Games.

The Scottish canoeist shone in the C1 and C2 categories at the trials, winning six out of six races, allowing him to seal his place in the Great Britain team early. He also added another C1 world title to guarantee he will tackle the current year with positivity and a belief that he has what it takes to add an Olympic gold medal to the two silver he already has in his collection.

“It does help that the selections have been made so early and I know that I will be part of the GB team because that now allows me to focus all my attentions on getting to Rio in the best form possible,” said Florence.

“It is a four-year process to get to an Olympics, but now that I am in the team I have to make everything count. In a sport such as canoeing, the margin for error is so small, and you have to perform at the absolute best of your ability if you want to be successful, and there is very little between the best in the world.”

With that in mind, Florence will cut back on competitive racing, taking part in the European Championship and only one of three World Cup events in the build-up to Brazil. He will instead take advantage of the early qualification heads-up to spend as much time as possible at the Rio course.

“Other nations are still finalising their teams but from March, our intention is to spend two weeks of every month out in Rio,” he said. “I think the fact we knew the course so well at the last Olympics was definitely an advantage and I think only the Brazilians will know it better than us this time. That gives us a fantastic opportunity.”

Katie Archibald

Cycling

IT IS commonly understood that it takes eight to ten years to develop from raw novice to world-class athlete. This assumes that the talent is there to develop. But Katie Archibald is set to confound the theory in 2016, going from novice to Olympian in just one Olympic cycle.

She first rode in a velodrome the same year as the last Games. She wasn’t new to cycling, exactly, but the sensation of the steep banking left her dizzy. “It was like being on a boat,” she said. “When you get up in the morning you’re still going round and round.”

Having excelled in the Scottish cycling scene, Archibald moved to Manchester a couple of years ago and became part of the British Cycling set-up, where she trains with Laura Trott, Elinor Barker, Joanna Rowsell Shand and Ciara Horne at the city’s velodrome.

In truth, Archibald shouldn’t just become an Olympian in Rio. She should become an Olympic medallist. Hell, she should become an Olympic gold medallist. She is part of a Great Britain women’s team pursuit squad who should go to Brazil as favourites.

Alongside Trott, the 21-year-old Archibald from Milngavie is the powerhouse of the four-women team. She is a good all-rounder, and loves bunch races, but everything is subsumed in pursuit of team pursuit gold. As she says: “Everything we do has the ultimate aim of making us go as fast as possible in Rio.” It isn’t just her main goal: “It’s the only goal.”

There will be at least five women going for four starting places. Internal competition is fierce but Archibald insists the team comes first. She explained: “When I first moved to Manchester [to join the squad] you’d say anything to get in the team. But as time passes and you go to races, you start to respect the squad more than your own ambitions.

“I would be embarrassed to be selected over someone if I thought they were better on the day. We are honest with each other; but it’s also obvious if someone isn’t on their A-game.”

Kirsty Gilmour

Badminton

Kirsty Gilmour watched every second of the badminton from Beijing via the BBC red button. In 2012, she visited London and mixed with the stars as part of the GB Ambition Programme. This year, she wants to make her little bit of Olympic history as a competitor on the courts in Rio.

It’s been a well-planned route from talented teenager to a world top-20 player for the 22-year-old. Along the way, she has picked up seven Scottish National Championships, a variety of titles around the world and medals from UK School, Commonwealth Youth and Commonwealth Games.

Presently, Gilmour is far and away the highest-ranked women’s singles player in Great Britain and she really only needs to avoid injury to secure her place in Team GB for Brazil this summer. But she wants to do much more than just follow Anne Gibson, Susan Egelstaff and Imogen Bankier as the fourth Scottish woman to wear the uniform.

Last year was a special one for the Lanarkshire youngster. She won titles in Sweden, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands and her list of runner-ups included the Scottish Open Grand Prix in Glasgow and last month’s Grand Prix in Orange County, California.

“It’s been a good year,” agreed Gilmour, while admitting that she hopes 2016 and beyond is even better.

“I’m in badminton for the long haul. I’m still a youngster. I’ve got my degree and now everything is focussed on badminton.”

While the Olympic qualifying period runs until May, Gilmour, who goes into 2016 at No.20 in the world, is pretty safe in the knowledge that her ticket to Rio is booked. But there is still plenty incentive to edge closer to the top ten. “I’m pretty much OK for selection, but I want to get a seeding,” she said of her Olympic dream. “That would make a huge difference to my draw.”

Looking back on 2012, she admits getting the chance to sample the atmosphere is a huge advantage ahead of this summer. “Being a small part of London 2012 was brilliant and if I get to Rio it will be an amazing experience,” she added.

Kimberley Renicks

Judo

THE memories of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow help dull the pain of tough workouts but it is the dream of competing on an Olympic stage that fuels Kimberley Renicks’ endeavours.

Sacrifices have been made, not only by her, and while that piles on the pressure, it also generates greater belief. Her big sister and fellow Commonwealth gold medallist Louise opted to trade in the chance to compete in Rio herself, preferring instead to retire from the sport and channel all her energies and all available finances into helping her sibling.

“It is exciting that my sister believes in me,” said the 27-year-old Glaswegian. “Hopefully I can qualify and we can share the dream.”

From Kirkshaws in Coatbridge, the sisters have been working together at judo for two decades, whether that be training, travelling or competing. And they have always shared and revelled in each other’s success. But now it is Kimberley who will take centre stage. The current British No. 1 in the -48kg category, the Scot is the favourite to make the Great Britain squad at that weight, but she is not getting carried away.

“It is going to be a tough start to the year,” she said. “I leave for a four-day training camp in Austria on 8 January and I am only back for one day before going to compete in Tunisia and then I’m back for two days and then heading straight to Cuba.”

It is all in the quest of experience and, more importantly, ranking points. Renicks added: “The European Championships are at the end of April and there are a lot of points available there, so I hope I can pick up points in every event and then hope I have a day like I did at the Commonwealth Games at the Euros and prove that I am the No.1 in Britain and get into the team.

“We will know by May who has made it. I’m in a good position and it was great to finish the year by winning the British trials, but there’s still a lot to do. I just hope it is worth it because I would love to get to Rio.”

Robbie Renwick

Swimming

After two Olympics and a couple of Commonwealth Games, Robbie Renwick realised he was paddling against a wave of new and faster talent and was struggling to keep up. He was stuck in a rut and had to do something radical to turn the tide.

That was 17 months ago. Now the Scot is looking forward to 2016 being a great new year. Perhaps even his best yet?

In the wake of a disappointing 2014 Commonwealth Games, it was a move from Glasgow to Stirling that has helped reinvigorate the 27-year-old’s career. The switch to the university programme run by coaches Steve Tigg and Ben Higson paid a handsome dividend when he won

a gold medal as part of Britain’s 4x200m freestyle relay squad at last summer’s World Championships in Kazan in Russia.

Now he has his eye on a podium place at his third Olympic Games in Rio in August, and a Scottish record in the 200m freestyle (1:43.58) at last month’s Scottish National Short Course Championships in Edinburgh confirmed that he is a man on song.

On Friday, he celebrated the arrival of 2016 by flying to Australia as part of a Scottish squad training camp. Perth will be home for the next month.

“The worlds were great and the thought of being medal contenders in Rio is really exciting,” said Renwick.

“When you start getting older, it gets harder and it certainly hurts for longer. But I am really enjoying my swimming, and even the training. We have a great squad at Stirling.

“I am now very happy with my form and going off to Australia is the perfect way to start the new year. Training outside in the sunshine at this time is the perfect preparation for the Olympic trials.”

The Olympic trials – the date all British swimmers have ringed in red on the calendar – are 12-17 April and the bonus for the Scots is that they take place at Tollcross International Swimming Centre in Glasgow, where a whole batch of Renwick’s University of Stirling colleagues will chase selection. “Everything is geared towards the trials,” Renwick added.

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