ONE banner draped over the spectators’ gantry read ‘MJ – It’s Yersel’. The poster boy is one of the most recognisable faces of these Games, his photo all over the place for anyone who didn’t know him as he grew up a stone’s throw from the Tollcross Swimming Centre. But in the end it wasn’t the local lad who made good, it was his team-mate Ross Murdoch.
It was a night that underlined that one man’s nightmare is another man’s dream. The 20-year-old from Balfron surprised the elder statesman and touched the wall ahead of him to shunt Jamieson into silver medal position, with Englishman Andrew Willis denying the home crowd the chance to celebrate a Scottish one, two, three, pushing Calum Tait out of the medals.
It made for a strange evening. With so much staked on Jamieson ahead of these Commonwealths, the fact he failed to conjure up the fairytale ending left the crowd momentarily paralysed unsure about how much they could celebrate a second gold medal for Scotland without appearing too insensitive to a man who had worked tirelessly to promte his home Games and who shouldered the dreams of a nation for so long. They pitched it perfectly, though, sidelining the disappointment they felt for Jamieson and showering Murdoch with all the praise he richly deserved.
“Ross deserves to win tonight. He’s been swimming unbelievable times all year. Breast stroke is all about stroke efficiency and maintaining a streamlined position. He’s one of the best in the world at it. I hope he enjoys his moment – because he’s had a hell of a day.”
Finishing in a time of 2.07.30, it was the second time in one day that Murdoch had smashed the Games Record, obliterating his own personal best in the process. But while he was breaking times, he was also breaking hearts. As he stood on the top step of the podium, a beaming grin gradually crumbling as he wiped away the tears, he team-mates stood one step down, stoney-faced, already lost in thoughts of what might have been.
“I’m kind of lost for words,” said Murdoch. ”I never really thought that would become a reality. It was always a dream of mine to come out to the home crowd and perform my best. I can’t really explain how it felt during that last 50m, having that many people cheering you on. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Then having the national anthem played, with the home crowd singing to you, I’ll never experience that again. That was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. All my family, my girlfriend and friends were in the crowd. It meant the world to me and I still can’t believe it’s happened. I wished [Michael] well. He’s had a tough season this year, it was a fantastic swim and he’s still an idol in my eyes. It’s kind of hard when you’re up against someone as prestigious as him.
That proved harder for the man who had been built up so much. The moment Glasgow was chosen to host these Games, Jamieson had seemed destined to triumph. The local boy who grew up round the corner and who developed his obsession and affection for the sport that brought him home and affording him the opportunity to become a hero, had fallen momentarily fallen out of love with it.
“‘How do I come back from this? I don’t know yet. I don’t know. ‘I think this one is going to hurt for a while. This is the one I was aiming for. I put everything I did into trying to win this one.”
He was beaten by the better man on the night but he confessed he had also been hampered by nerves. While others talked about his destiny, at times over the past few days the Olympic silver medallist had felt like the Stone of Destiny itself was strapped to his back, weighing him down.
“Maybe that was why it didn’t go well, swimming with too much emotion, getting too uptight over the past few days – forgetting it was just another race. This was the pool I swam in for years and I built it up to be the biggest swim of my life. If I was going to swim well tonight, I had to get over that and stay as relaxed as possible. I’ve not been able to do that.
“I’m obviously gutted. I didn’t prepare for second place. I came here to win. I don’t know what I would have changed in my preparations. I’ve done everything I could, worked harder than ever. I’ve struggled with a few injuries here and there this season, just because I’ve been pushing it to the limit. I guess that, in a way, makes it easier to stomach.”
But Murdoch was as gracious as his hero, admitting he had been lucky to slip under the public’s radar and avoid the pressure of having to deliver.
Any demands put on him, he put on himself. “It’s quite good to go unnoticed, I like to be the underdog and for people not to expect much from me. I don’t look at the press, I just focus on the process and do my own thing. Butit’s given me a lot of confidence for the rest of the week. It’s something I’m thinking about, the week as a whole, so I’ve got to get myself swam down and prepare for my next race.”
The pair of them were afforded the respect they deserved as they embarked on a lap of the pool. Their Scottish team-mates formed a guard of honour, aware of the quality of the race they had gifted the watching public. As he emerged from the tunnel of Saltires and ecstatic colleagues, Murdoch embraced his family and girlfriend, his grin helping dissipate any residual shock and awkwardness that still hung in the air.
‘That’s two years in a row I’ve gone into a major meet as the fastest man in the world,” said the visibly gutted Jamieson. “I swam 2.07 three times – I did it here in April in front of about 11 people and three dogs. But I swam slower tonight. I don’t know why that happened. But it’s not about me tonight, it’s about Ross.
“He swam two world-class times today, he’s a young lad who stepped up, he’s the fastest man in the world this year by 0.4 of a second now. And he’s been doing it all season, been knocking at the door all year. He’s got that mentality that he can step up when it counts at the major meets. He deserves it, because he was by far and away the best swimmer in the pool tonight.”