Glasgow 2014: Johnston comes out of left field

Claire Johnston describes Kelvingrove as 'an amazing venue'. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Claire Johnston describes Kelvingrove as 'an amazing venue'. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

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GROWING up left-handed can be a serious problem for those who have to face living in a right-handed world as a southpaw. Even the old Scots phrase corrie-fisted means “wrong handed”, and though 10 per cent of the human race have their left as their dominant hand, there’s plenty of discrimination of various sorts against “lefties”.

For Team Scotland bowler Claire Johnston, however, being left-handed has given her just a smidgen of superiority in 22 years as a lawn bowler, especially when she views the “roads” on a bowling green – those mysterious invisible paths to the jack that bowlers see in their mind’s eye.

“I think being left-handed is maybe an advantage,” said Johnston, speaking shortly before entering the “lockdown” final training period and taking up residence in the athletes’ village.

“I tend to get a different road from everyone else and sometimes people try to follow that road and it can be a disadvantage for them.

“Because I know I’m left-handed and know I won’t get the road other people take, I just totally concentrate on my own game.”

Now 35, Johnston is at her second Commonwealth Games having competed in Delhi where she finished as fifth-ranked player in the singles, having lost to the eventual silver medallist, Val Smith of New Zealand, in the quarter-finals.

“There were no medals won by Scotland in Delhi which was a big disappointment,” said Johnston.

“I was in the game to take me into the bronze place and I lost by a shot. It was a big disappointment and I’m using that a spur.

“When you go to a Games you’re aiming to come back with a medal and not to manage that is a big disappointment.

“It was a learning curve all round but we’re stronger, we’ve prepared better and are ready for this event.”

Irvine-born Johnston lives in Auchinleck, and this Ayrshire woman is confident that having her family, friends and the support of the Scottish public at the Kelvingrove bowling centre will be crucial.

“We’ve been on every green and every rink at Kelvingrove,” explained Johnston.

“It’s an amazing venue and the greens are running well. It’s great to be here. We’re been here for weeks and we have our own books and we record every green, every rink, every setting.

“We put down what we think of the rink, what the benefits are and which hand to play. We have it noted down and every individual has that information.

“I have my own personal notes and will look back at them – I’ve put a lot of work in.”

Johnston will likely participate in the triples and fours, and Scotland are currently on form in both these events.

She said: “Last year we had a Four Nations and an Eight Nations here. We won the gold at the Four Nations.

“So we’ve had competition on the greens and had good results.

“We’re comfortable at Kelvingrove and will have home support with family and friends, which for me just drives me on.

“To have a Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, your own patch, means it’s the biggest event I’ll ever play in. It’s massive.”

There were just six gold medals available in Delhi, but this time there are ten. The Scottish bowlers have not been set any medal tally by their coaches, but despite the strong challenges posed by England, South Africa and Australia in particular, there is confidence in the camp that podium finishes can be achieved.

“Everybody’s excited,” said Johnston. “We’ve prepared well, we’re playing well and we’re extremely excited about the Games.

“There’s no target, but we’ve prepared for this over the last year or two and if we’re all playing well then I firmly believe we can win medals.

“It’s the best prepared team we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of squad days, we’ve worked hard as a team and had weeks up here training. We had a Home Nations event which went well.

“So I believe that if we play to the best of our ability, everyone is capable of winning a medal.”

Johnston is adamant that bowls these days is for people of all ages and the team reflects this.

“Some of my team-mates started as young as nine year -old,” she said. “I myself was 13. A couple [of the squad] took it up a bit later in their thirties.

“My mum and dad were members of the local bowling club but they weren’t really competitive.

“I went down and decided to give it a go when I was 13. I’ve been hooked ever since.

“Hopefully more young ones can get into it because they’re the future of the sport.”

Johnston has been so focused on the Commonwealth Games that she has given up work temporarily – “At the moment I’m not working but hopefully that will change after the Games.”

With just days to go before the competition starts, Johnston admits to excitement rather than nervousness – as a top-level player for several years, including representing Scotland at World Championships, she knows that controlling adrenalin is paramount for a bowler.

“Nerves plays a part but it’s more excitement at the moment,” she said.

“I’ve played in big events, at world level, Scottish level and Atlantic Rim level.

“I’m just focused on what I have to do. I’ve done the hard work, prepared and know what I have to do.”

So do her Scottish team-mates and they are encouraging each other: “We’re a good group, we’re all so relaxed with one another. We’re very close. Team spirit is amazing and I’m honoured to be a part of it.”

All that Scotland’s bowlers need to do to beat their performance in Delhi is win one medal. Surely, however, they will win more than that.

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