GRANT Sheldon is hoping a little local knowledge can take him a long way when the first medals of the 2014 Commonwealth Games are decided at Strathclyde Country Park in Motherwell today.
The triathlon venue is a home from home for Sheldon, the 19-year-old from Blantyre who is part of a three-pronged Scottish contingent in the men’s event along with David McNamee and Marc Austin.
The clear favourites are English brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee, who struck Olympic gold and bronze respectively at London 2012, while Richard Murray of South Africa is also strongly fancied.
But Sheldon believes his familiarity with Strathclyde Country Park could present him with an opportunity to claim a place on the podium.
“I know the place so well because I used to go there as a kid with my family,” said Sheldon. “I even learned to ride a bike there. I’ve been there a few times in the build-up to the Games, doing bike sessions and getting used to the course.
“I think that definitely gives all of the Scottish lads an advantage over our rivals. It is a tough course, with a hilly bike route as well as a hilly running circuit. It’s more of a strength course, rather than a flat one which comes down to speed.
“I’ve got a feel of how to work the course and it should help me a lot. I will know when and where to put the attacks together and when just to sit in.
“The Brownlee brothers will drive the pace on. They will look to be at the front of the swim, push hard on the bike and then run away from the field on the last part. It just helps to make this an enormous race.
“It is an opportunity for me to emerge from the shadows. Being a triathlete in Britain at the moment is quite difficult, with the Brownlee brothers and so many other good, solid athletes. Unless you do something special, you may be left out.
“It’s a really strong field at Strathclyde Park. You also have Aaron Harris of England, Richard Murray from South Africa and some Australians and New Zealanders.
“It’s tricky to say what my expectations are, because this is my first year as a senior triathlete and I’ve only taken part in a couple of World Triathlon Series events. But they have gone well. I would say a top-five finish here is an expectation but I’m going out there looking for a medal.”
Sheldon turned to triathlon after realising he was not cut out to reach the top as a swimmer, the sport he initially competed in as a schoolboy. Now he has ambitions to reach elite level over the gruelling combined discipline of a 1.5km swim, 40km cycle and 10km run.
“I competed at national level as a swimmer when I was younger, but I wasn’t great,” added Sheldon. “Someone in my swim team was organising a triathlon, so I thought I would have a go. I was pretty good at it and progressed into the Scottish team. I’ve built up to do bigger races. I started five years ago and have been competing seriously for the last four.
“I’m still pretty young but it’s been a good learning curve. After Glasgow 2014, my ambition is to go on and compete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. I don’t know how realistic that will be but, hopefully, I can progress a lot over the next two years. Beyond that, there’s the 2018 Commonwealth Games and I’d like to be right at the top of the sport by then.”
Sheldon combines his career with his studies at Stirling University, where he is taking a maths degree. “I deferred the semester since Christmas to allow me to go to training camps in New Zealand and elsewhere, which allowed me to focus on the Games,” he said.
“It’s been a nice break from studying, to be honest, and I think I’ll struggle to go back in September. I’m in my third year at University and have another two to go. So that will be a step back to normality, after travelling around the world to race against the best triathletes. But a degree is always a good back-up option, so I may as well finish it.”