MOST of the track and field participants in Team Scotland, who will be subject to the brightest glare of publicity at next year’s Commonwealth Games, will not be even loosely acquainted with the type of fame that is going to be thrust upon them in the months of July and August.
Eilidh Child and Eilish McColgan have competed in major events, including the London Olympics. Lee McConnell has done most things a career in athletics has to offer. But none has taken part in a competition of historic proportions where their own faces will beam out as the very emblems of the affair.
There were 2.3 million applications for tickets for the Commonwealth Games, just over half of which came from Scottish households. So it is safe to assume that the likes of Child and McColgan, when sighted in Scottish apparel both before and after their appearances at Hampden Park, are going to attract attention on a level that great pioneers such as Liz McColgan, Allan Wells and Yvonne Murray never experienced.
It is up to Stephen Maguire, director of coaching at scottishathletics, to be aware of this temporary threat to the equilibrium of the athletes under his wing, to educate them in advance and guard them against the intrusive side of fame. In this regard it was interesting yesterday to hear him state that the runners, throwers and jumpers of Team Scotland would not prepare for the Glasgow Games in any sort of solitary confinement.
Speaking at the launch of a new partnership with authorities in East Ayrshire that will make the £7m Ayrshire Athletics Arena available as a base camp prior to the athletes’ entry to the Games Village, Maguire insisted that the leading acts in this national production should spend time mingling with their public, at least in a sporting environment in places such as Kilmarnock, if not in the throngs of Argyle Street and other Glasgow thoroughfares.
“One thing I didn’t want to set up in advance of the Games was a situation whereby athletes were being locked away from the Scottish public in a hotel for a couple of weeks,” said Maguire, originally from Northern Ireland. “I don’t think that kind of living in a bubble training camp is advantageous ahead of a major tournament and all the excitement it generates. There will be a lot of enthusiasm and passion for Team Scotland in the final few days before the Commonwealth Games and you want to feed off that to an extent.
“Obviously, there will be times when athletes need to focus hard and will be training on their own, in groups or just with their own coach. But, at other times, I want to see some community involvement and we’re talking to East Ayrshire Leisure about that for next July and perhaps linking up with youngsters involved in East Ayrshire Leisure’s summer athletics camps.”
Edinburgh long jumper Sarah Warnock joined Kilbarchan marathon runner Derek Hawkins at yesterday’s launch in Kilmarnock and the 22-year-old Scottish champion is of the opinion that next season cannot come soon enough for her.
The outlook this time last year was not overwhelmingly positive but Warnock set a series of personal bests in 2013 to qualify for Glasgow several times over, and now she is looking ahead to the indoor British Athletics Glasgow International as well as the Commonwealth Games and Edinburgh’s participation in continental competition.
“It is going to be a big year for obvious reasons,” said Warnock yesterday. “The Games are catching the imagination of the public and, thankfully, my family and friends have now managed to get tickets for the long jump qualifying rounds.
“Before that I will be involved in a European Clubs event in May with Edinburgh AC. We won the British Women’s League this year to qualify and it was a great achievement for a Scottish club. We’re heading to Portugal for that and then thoughts will turn towards Glasgow 2014. It is so exciting and I think being based at the Ayrshire Athletics Arena in Kilmarnock will keep us connected with the public.”