LET the gold rush begin. The home nation’s management team left no room for doubt yesterday. By the time day one of the Commonwealth Games is over tomorrow night, one or more Scottish athletes will have stood on top of the podium.
Neither chef de mission Jon Doig nor Commonwealth Games Scotland (CGS) chairman Michael Cavanagh went so far as to say which of their competitors had the greatest chance of winning a gold medal, but they did not have to. The expectation has been building for years on swimmer Michael Jamieson, and both he and team-mate Hannah Miley will race in their best events at Tollcross tomorrow.
Join us at 3pm today for a live Google Hangout panel discussion as David Ferguson and Stuart Bathgate look ahead to the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony with Scots athlete Gillian Cooke and sports psychologist Viki Penpraze
Para cyclists Aileen McGlynn and Laura Cluxton have a real chance of medals at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, and five separate weight categories in the judo competition also offer a chance of glory. But the pool is the venue where hopes are highest, as Olympic silver medallist Jamieson and defending Commonwealth champion Miley bid to get Team Scotland off to an inspiring start in the 200 metres breaststroke and the 400m individual medley respectively.
“Our expectation is that, at the end of the night, Scotland will have gold on the medal board,” Cavanagh said. “Absolutely.
“Obviously, we’ve got the velodrome, where some para-sport athletes have a great chance – and then the one thing everyone has been talking about is the first night in the swimming pool, where two of our most experienced athletes are going in their best events.
“It will be a big boost to get off to a big start. We’ve got experience of it in Melbourne eight years ago. Winning the first two finals in the pool in Melbourne got us off to a fantastic start. The following day in the village, the Scottish team were walking taller.
“We topped the swimming medal table for a while. Scottish athletes winning gold medals made everybody feel better, more confident. We’ve got a good chance of seeing that effect again after the first night here.”
Having said that, Cavanagh added that no sporting contest was a foregone conclusion, and that Jamieson, for one, faced stiff opposition – including from a fellow Scot. “I don’t think anybody should pin a gold medal on an athlete before they’ve actually won.
“While Michael Jamieson is a fantastic swimmer, and we know from London that he thrives on a big stage, he’s got a big job to do. Ross Murdoch, his team-mate, will push him very hard. We are in for a fantastic race.
“But it’s sport. Michael Jamieson will do everything he can to win a gold medal, as will Hannah Miley, as will Aileen McGlynn and the other athletes going on that day. They’ll be giving it everything.
“Form right now, and home advantage, points to success. Michael is a really strong prospect, but even his own team-mate is pushing him hard.
“Can we get a Scotland one-two? There are some other cracking athletes in there – great English breaststroke swimmers, a South African lad who is world class. So it’s going to be an amazing race.
“Michael is always confident. He knows what shape he’s in; he’s talking confidently. Of all the athletes in the team, if you’re looking for someone to step up when the pressure’s on, Michael is your man. We haven’t stuck Michael up there to lead us – but he’s that kind of athlete. He is confident and he seems to thrive on this pressure. That’s the kind of athlete you want to lead from the front.
“He’s the kind of guy who recognises the impact it can have. So, while he wants to win gold for himself, he’s well aware of what a boost he can deliver to the team.
“They’re already walking pretty tall because it’s a home Games. Imagine how tall they’ll be walking once we’ve won a gold medal.
“You can sense a confidence in this team – and it’s not an arrogant confidence. They just know that the preparation has been good, that they’ve had a lot of support, that they’ve trained really hard. So they’re confident in their own ability. Although they’re up against people who have also been training hard, we’re confident that they’re going to deliver medals.”
Scotland’s minimum target from the 11 days of competition is 34 – one more than the previous record, set in Edinburgh 28 years ago. Doig emphasised the importance of getting off to a flying start, insisting that it could have an effect on every member of the team.
“We’re confident, given the way the programme has fallen, we will have good medal chances on the first three or four days,” he said. “The shooting also starts on day two and we’re traditionally strong in that, so we’re looking to the first 24-48 hours to really get us going. It would be tremendous to have a Scot winning gold on day one. There is a two to three-hour period in late afternoon/early evening when three of those sports have medal rounds. The momentum is there: the athletes go out in the morning and there are medal tables in the reception area and the medical area and people like to see it ticking over. It’s great to see: the athletes do respond and say: ‘Yes, I’ve heard the anthem and I want to be part of it’.”
CGS has renewed its Medallists Award Scheme with an overall budget of £300,000, which grants up to £10,000 to gold medallists to be used when they retire from elite sport. Silver medallists can get up to £5,000 from the same pot, while bronze winners are eligible for a maximum of £2,500.
Delhi 2010 medallist David Carry paid tribute to the scheme, having been a beneficiary on his retirement from swimming after the last Olympic Games. “Funds from the Medallists Reward Scheme really helped me when I stopped competing, and it’s fantastic to see it being announced again for Team Scotland medallists at Glasgow 2014,” he said.
• Three-times world squash champion Nick Matthew will lead Team England out at the Commonwealth Games as flag bearer.
The 33-year-old heard the news on Monday night and will now march out at a packed Celtic Park tonight before retiring to his bed ahead of his Games opener tomorrow morning.
Rhythmic gymnast Francesca Jones, a silver medallist at Delhi in 2010, was selected to be Wales flag bearer. Jones, 23 – who trains at the Llanelli Rhythmic Academy – is also a six-time British champion and competed for Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN: POTENTIAL HIGHLIGHTS AT GLASGOW 2014
Opening ceremony starts at 8.14pm and features 3,000 cast members and 4,500 athletes from the 71 competing nations.
England’s Brownlee brothers Alistair and Jonny start as hot favourites in the men’s triathlon, the first medals on offer at Glasgow 2014, while Sir Bradley Wiggins makes his sole appearance in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in the men’s team pursuit. Scotland’s swimming gold medal hot favourite Michael Jamieson goes in the men’s 200m breaststroke.
England’s world champion Joanna Rowsell is expected to pip Scotland’s Katie Archibald in track cycling’s women’s individual pursuit. Seventeen-year-old skeet shooter Amber Hill also goes for gold for England.
A big day for weightlifting with England’s Zoe Smith vying with Wales’ double Commonwealth gold medallist Michaela Breeze in the women’s -58kg category. Scotland’s opening ceremony flag bearer Euan Burton is in the men’s -100kg judo and his wife, England’s Gemma Gibbons, is also in action in the women’s -78kg.
England’s Mo Farah, a double Olympic champion at London 2012, has not confirmed which events he will compete in but is likely to kick off his campaign with the 5,000m. Northern Ireland’s big cycling hope is world champion Martyn Irvine, who goes in the Scratch Race.
Monday, 28 July
Women’s boxing makes its debut with England’s Nicola Adams bidding to add to her Olympic gold. England’s reigning world squash champions Nick Matthew and Laura Massaro are expected to figure in their respective finals.
Tuesday, 29 July
The team gymnastics finals could throw up an intriguing duel between Louis Smith’s England and a Scotland team inspired by Daniel Keatings.
Wednesday, 30 July
Nicola Adams could be back in action in the women’s flyweight boxing quarter-finals, while Scotland and England clash in the women’s hockey preliminaries.
Thursday, 31 July
Olympic Great Britain gymnastics team-mates Louis Smith, Max Whitlock and Daniel Keatings go head-to-head in the individual apparatus finals. David Weir goes in the men’s T54 1,500m and Scotland’s Eilidh Child could provide a host nation memorable moment in the women’s 400m hurdles.
Friday, 1 August
Jamaican sprint superstar Usain Bolt will grace the Games as the men’s 4x100m relay gets under way while Laura Muir will be hoping to boost the home nation’s medal tally in the women’s 800m final.
Saturday, 2 August
Tom Daley goes in his signature men’s 10m platform event in Edinburgh while Bolt will hope to feature in the sprint relay final on the last night of athletics.
Sunday, 3 August
With no Wiggins nor Mark Cavendish, the men’s cycling road race could be a straight shoot-out between Scot David Millar and Welshman Geraint Thomas.