Anything other than the Commonwealth title will translate as utter failure for Michael Jamieson
tHE day the Glasgow 2014 medals were unveiled was a key moment in Michael Jamieson’s Commonwealth Games preparations.
The hours upon hours in the pool and the gym have helped the swimmer post the fastest times in the world this year in the 200m breaststroke and, with victory at the recent Scottish and British Championships, he secured his place in the Scottish team for the Games. But it is the ability to picture the top prize that will give him the psychological strength to push himself even further.
“Seeing the medals really helped. I now have a picture in my head of what I really want and I’ll be thinking about it every day,” said the 25-year-old Olympic silver medallist, who was one of the 38 swimmers and two divers unveiled as part of Team Scotland last week. “I’m trying to be as positive as possible and not even consider a plan B. No ‘what if this doesn’t happen?’ I’ve been working with a sports psychologist, a guy from Chimp Management, the organisation Dr Steve Peters runs, the guy Chris Hoy worked with. I’m trying to be a bit more level-headed on a day to day basis in terms of dealing with training sessions and my general mindset.”
Four years ago, in Delhi, he had to settle for a disappointing silver behind Australia’s Brenton Rickard. This time around, as one of the Games’ poster boys and with Scottish hopes pinned to his Saltire swimming cap, he wants the upgrade, with a gold medal swim the only outcome he will countenance.
“Unsatisfied is probably an understatement. After finishing second last time, there’s only one result I’m looking for. I think the reason for my disappointment was it was so close.” He finished just 0.08 outside the winning time of 2:10:8, which was a new Games record. “It took 2:11 to just make this [Scotland] team. So it shows you how far breaststroke is coming in this country. For me, I’ve come a long way since then and that was a big breakthrough event for me. It was my first senior international medal and I think there’s been a transition since then from just looking to make podiums and win medals to step on from that and win titles.”
But Jamieson knows it won’t come easy. While some events are weakened when the non-Commonwealth countries are absent, the breaststroke still boasts strength in depth. “There’s going to be a world-class field. Without a doubt I’ll have to be in the condition to swim my best time.”
There will be fierce competition from Down Under once again, while domestic challengers are plentiful. “Christian Sprenger is an Australian swimmer who swam 2:08 at his trials last week, then there’s [Englishman] Andrew Willis, the Olympic and world finalist, he has swum 2:08 low. There’s a few of the younger guys going 2:09, 2:10. I’m sure going into a major games, as is always the case, they’ll be making major drops once they’re in front of the crowds. I can only prepare as best I can and, thus far, everything is going to plan.”
Based in Bath, Jamieson has been able to gauge the form of some of his rivals and use them to help boost his own times. “I train with Andrew Willis. We’ve trained together for a number of years and that has added a bit of extra excitement. We’re both looking to be British number one in the 200m and it’s been to and fro over the last couple of years.
“I want him to swim well but finish behind me and he’s the same. It will be the same this summer. The coach always tries to jokingly perform some mind games and whenever we’re training he’s shouting out times we’re both doing to try and get a bit of rivalry there.
“Quite often we’re right next to each other, racing and competing in the harder sets at training.”
Jamieson acknowledges there are pros and cons to training in such close proximity with one of his main competitors, but he has found ways to channel it positively.
“If you have a bad day at training you don’t want to be the one behind so training with another world-class breaststroker obviously helps to raise the standard. There are days when you have to find an extra few tenths in the middle of a hard session and it makes it easier to do that when we’re racing head-to-head. Training together, I know what kind of work goes on so I want him to perform well but come in behind me.” Throughout the history of the Commonwealth Games, Scotland’s success in the pool is unmatched in any other sport. Over the years it has delivered 73 medals – 20 gold, 25 silver and 28 bronze. In Melbourne, in 2006, it became the nation’s most successful sport at a single Games as well, with an impressive haul of 12 medals, half of them gold, with three silver and three bronze. Those podium places set the tone for the Scottish team that year and helped them on their way to their biggest gold medal haul.
With swimming one of the sports given the honour of kicking off the gold rush in Glasgow, Jamieson is hoping the aquatics team can get the ball rolling again.
“On a team level, and a personal level. The 200m breaststroke is on the first day and it is added pressure but the pressure’s there as a result of support and it’s great to have it. It’s important to have a good start and get the ball rolling. We had a nervous opening day in London but sometimes one medal is all it takes.”
Momentum can gather pace quickly in such circumstances and with the goodwill of the crowd, the euphoria can carry competitors further and faster than they ever imagined.
“There was so much made of [the home crowd] before London and it was hard to know beforehand what sort of an advantage it would give us,” said Jamieson. “Some thrive on it, some struggle with the pressure, but I love competing at the big events and the noise created really makes a difference. Without a doubt it helped me in London and I’m banking on it being the same in Glasgow. I have a time in my head I think I’m capable of and another time I think is possible if things click on the day and the crowd are fully behind us.”
Representing Scotland, in his home city, in the pool where he previously trained, he says there is even more at stake. “I think all the athletes feel the same. It’s just an added sense of identification and bit more pride. We don’t get the chance to represent the home nations often so everyone is really eager to be in shape to perform at their best.
“Now, at the age of 25, I’m one of the more senior members of the team, which is a complete opposite to what it was in Delhi and I’m kinda enjoying that as well. I’m pretty happy with my results. The 200 is right where I would like it to be at this stage, leading on to the last preparation phase for the games.”
If Delhi was a breakthrough year for Jamieson, London signalled he was a serious force to be reckoned with on the international stage. While never likely to be mobbed on the streets, it also gave him a public profile and led to the weight of Scottish expectation being placed squarely on his shoulders.
“Being based in Bath, I do feel like I’ve been sheltered from it and just travelling up to do bits and pieces helps to enhance that feeling of excitement. Every time I come up it’s getting a little bit closer to the Games. I’m able to see the excitement build and I go back with renewed enthusiasm and motivation. I think I’ve managed it well so far.”
Scotland expects but no more than Jamieson himself, who now knows the look of the gold medal and he won’t be satisfied unless it’s hanging from his neck as the national anthem reverberates in Tollcross.