HIS picture is virtually omnipresent in the pre-Games publicity, while the event schedule was organised to get him into the pool on the opening day in the hope he can start the gold rush and provide inspiration for every Scot who steps up after him.
It’s a lot of pressure on one set of shoulders but, with silver in the 200m breaststroke, Michael Jamieson was the most successful Briton in the pool at the London Olympics and, with none of the Scots who won gold across all events in those games competing in Glasgow, he is the natural Team Scotland poster boy.
“I only found out [about the timetable of events] a few weeks ago but I got goosebumps when the Scottish performance director told me I was up on day one. It does add pressure but it’s done now and, when you are competing at this level, that’s something you need to learn how to deal with. It’s a great tactic if it pays off and I want to be seen as a leader within the team and someone they can count on to deliver the medal they want. It would set up what could be an amazing fortnight if I can get the result I’m looking for.”
In London, Hungarian Daniel Gyurta had to break the world record to finish ahead of Jamieson and, while silver on such a stage still signified a massive breakthrough, hindsight is tinged with regret as well as pride.
The stories of him holed up in Paris for a year, where he had followed his coach as a 19-year-old in a determined bid to realise his goals, are well known. Tales of surviving with very little French and very little social interaction outside of training, sustained as much by his dreams as he was by porridge and potatoes – all he could afford in the days before he was awarded lottery funding.
All along, Jamieson had a number in his head – two minutes and eight seconds, the time he, correctly, believed, even then, he would have to break to secure an Olympic medal.
The new target is two seconds faster, while the colour of the targeted medal has also changed.
“In the lead-up to the Olympics, I only ever targeted one of the minor medals and I never thought I would be in a position to win gold. Now I think that is one of the reasons it didn’t happen. Obviously, Daniel breaking the world record was worthy of a gold medal but I do ask myself now, would the result have been any different had I gone in there with a real belief that I could have beaten him? That, again, is a major part of the motivation behind Glasgow this year. I do think I can beat anyone now and I think I can get down to two minutes six seconds and win gold.”
But that Olympic podium place was always going to be an important stepping stone, in his own mind and the psyche of others.
Jamieson added: “Overall it has helped me and has given me the belief that I can go from a medallist to being a champion and winning titles and I’m hoping that will make a difference this season.”
In London, Jamieson flew in under the radar but now he is one of the main men the rest of the field know they have to beat.
In Glasgow he won’t face the likes of Gyurta, but he says there is enough quality within the Commonwealth to ensure he will have to earn whatever he gets in the pool. That hard work is ongoing. Jamieson still covers more than 50,000 metres in training every week, his Saltire cap bobbing up and down in the pool at Bath University, where he is based. And, as part of a daunting programme designed to test him against the best from around the globe on a regular basis, he has also competed in all six World Cup events this year, making the podium every time.
That is a habit he does not want to break in Glasgow, especially as it represents one of the few chances he gets to compete for his home nation rather than part of Team GB. “It’s obviously a huge honour to represent your country. We come from a small but proud nation and there is an added incentive to perform at a Commonwealth Games because you are wearing the Saltire and I had the time of my life in Delhi at the last Commonwealth Games. That felt like a real breakthrough competition for me. I remember standing in the stands and cheering on Robbie [Renwick] to his gold. He is one of my close friends and, when he was on the podium, the whole team was in the stands, singing along to the national anthem and those are the kind of things you remember forever. I want some memories like that for myself this year.
“It is very exciting to be involved in the sport at this time, getting to compete at the home Olympics and then, fingers crossed, a home Commonwealth Games. There is nothing better and it doesn’t get any easier to stay motivated than this.”
Jamieson is happy to restrict trips home from Bath for the time being, allowing the hype and excitement to build in Glasgow while he focuses on his own form elsewhere. But next month he will sample some of what to expect at Tollcross next summer, with the European Short Course Championships followed by swimming’s version of the Ryder Cup, the Duel in the Pool, just days before he settles down for a quiet Christmas at home with his family.
Jamieson added: “It’s all going pretty well for a just a normal kid from Glasgow and I’m really looking forward to competing but, for now, I have been trying to keep myself as shielded as possible from it and keep my head in the game and make sure I’m doing everything I can to stay in shape and get ready for the trials and then, hopefully, the games.”
Jamieson will head to the Sierra Nevada in Spain at the beginning of the new year for four weeks’ intense altitude training before returning to Bath to fine tune his technique ahead of the team trials in April. He is not taking anything for granted, although others are. The fact he has been installed as the unofficial poster boy by so many says so. It is the kind of pressure he thrives on, though.
“I think it’s something that I can deal with and I’ve always said that I put more pressure on myself and on my performances than any media outlets or the public. I’m well aware of what everyone is hoping for but it’s something I expect from myself and, if I don’t get the results I want in the summer, then I will be the first person to hold my hands up and take responsibility for it.”
It’s not a scenario he envisages, though. He is too busy focusing on that time of two minutes six seconds and the top step of the podium.
• The National Lottery funds 1,300 elite athletes across the UK, many of whom will be representing their home nation at Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. To find out more visit www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk