EVERYONE remembers the euphoria that engulfed the British team at the London Olympics once the medals started being won. But who can recall the two or three anxious, unsuccessful days that came first?
Hannah Miley can, because she was part of them. And she has no intention of enduring a repetition this summer, when representing Scotland at the Commonwealth Games.
Now 24, the swimmer from Inverurie was one of Team GB’s big hopes for an early podium place in 2012. Cyclist Mark Cavendish was meant to lead the way on the road, then she was supposed to follow in the pool. Neither was able to stick to that script.
This year, too, there is a lot of pressure on Miley’s slender shoulders. She and fellow-swimmer Michael Jamieson go in their key events on the first day of competition, the hope being that their successes can spur their team-mates on to great things.
Both Scots have the talent to win their events but, before they do, they will also have to deal with that burden of expectation. Speaking yesterday as she launched the Bank of Scotland Local Heroes programme for 2014, Miley said she welcomed being placed in that crucial leadership position, and insisted that, having dealt with a similar situation at the Olympics, she would be unfazed by it this time round.
“The fact that myself and MJ compete on the first day is kind of exciting, and it’s quite good, because, hopefully, we will be able to put Scotland into a good start of the week and inspire the team to be in high morale from the start,” she said at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow. “That is a little bit of pressure, but it can’t be as much pressure as I had at the Olympics. That was extreme, especially when I was told ‘If Mark Cavendish doesn’t get a medal, we’re all going to be looking at you’.
“And I didn’t want to know. No offence to him, I didn’t want to know whether he’d got a medal or not, because I didn’t want to add that extra pressure on myself. If he got a medal then great, then when he didn’t get a medal I think I’d be like, ‘Oh, pants’.
“That was going to be more stress for me leading into a final, which is not exactly what you need. You put yourself into a bubble and try and be as calm and relaxed as you can, and not let things distract you. I managed to stay in that bubble. It wasn’t until I got interviewed after the race that they said ‘Mark didn’t get a medal so a lot of people were hoping that you’d come out with a medal’. I can’t remember what I said exactly – I think I said I hoped Mark was okay and that he had other races.”
He did have other races, and Team GB soon had some victories to celebrate, but it was still not the ideal start. At Melbourne in 2006, on the other hand, everything got off to a flying start for Scotland, who actually topped the medals table early on after some excellent results for our swimmers. Miley knows that replicating such success will be difficult, but if everything goes according to plan, who knows?
“We can dream. We can definitely dream. Melbourne was such an exciting competition. It was my very first Commonwealth Games and I remember coming into it as a rookie.
“It was just spectacular, and the swimming team did amazingly well. It surpassed people’s expectations for the team. So we can always hope that every games that we go into, we’re going to try and do the same thing, and everybody goes in with the intention to do that.
“The only thing we can’t control is our competitors. Anything can happen on the day, so we’ve just got to go in and fight, get the best position we can, and come away with as many medals as we can. We can’t really predict it until the day, so I’m afraid it’s a waiting game.”
What she can predict, however, is that this year’s Scotland team will have greater strength in depth than in previous years. Whereas eight years ago we had only a handful of outstanding swimmers – above all Caitlin McClatchey, Gregor Tait and David Carry, who came home with two gold medals each – now we have far more events in which there is real domestic competition.
“I think the team will be really, really strong,” Miley continued. “We had some outstanding performances at the national championships and people really stepped up their games to make the times.
“And the fact that there are quite a few events where three Scots have qualified – that’s brilliant to see. We’ve not really had many events where all three spots are taken up, so we are getting the depth. And, at the British Championships afterwards, I think a lot of people were able to swim quicker than they did at the Scottish – so that higher level of competition, and the head-to-head competition with the English and the Welsh, helped.
“We’re going to be up against those guys again in the summer. I definitely think Scotland has got a really strong team and a great chance of producing some solid performances.”
• There are 19 Bank of Scotland Local Heroes this year. For more details see www.bankofscotland.co.uk/localheroes