With the new year bringing another milestone in the countdown to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, some of Scotland’s brightest medal hopes are gearing up for a momentous occasion
AS A kid at Tynecastle High School, Alex Marshall would forego the opportunity to join his friends in a lunchtime kickabout, preferring instead to go to the nearby bowling green to hone his burgeoning skills against his father or grandfather.
That dedication from an early age has helped him become one of the best in the world but he says he has never lost his passion for football. Still an avid Hearts fan, he gets to as many matches as his bowling schedule allows, and despite being a man who has won a record five World Indoor Championships, is the reigning World Outdoor Pairs champion as well and has a couple of Commonwealth Games golds tucked away, he says the only time nerves really grip him is when he is watching the Gorgie club.
“That is tense and it’s even worse if it’s a derby and I can’t get to the game. I have to sit with a cushion and if the ball goes anywhere near the goal, I’m a sorry state. It’s completely different when I’m bowling because n matter how close things are I know I can influence things, I have the chance to do something about it but if you are just watching, you feel helpless.”
He remembers watching back a recording of one particularly tense climax and as the camera panned the audience he was struck by the look on his wife Diane’s face. He recognised the emotions. “She was so nervous!”
But that is the kind of atmosphere the genial but confident Marshall thrives on. When you have been there and bought the T-shirt as often as he has on the major occasions, there is an inner calm. There is also an excitement at the thought of what could be achieved rather than a fear of what could be lost. With the calendar turning to 2014, and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow just 200 days away, those feelings are magnified. In just three days he will head down to the Potters Resort in Norfolk for the World Indoor Championships which begin on Friday. There, Marshall will defend his pairs title alongside Paul Foster, the man he is likely to team up with for Scotland at the Commonwealths.
It marks the start of what could be another epic year in the 46-year-old’s career. “For now, I’m trying to concentrate on the World Indoors but the Commonwealth Games are always at the back of my mind. Now it is just months away and I still get the biggest buzz thinking about them because they are in our own back yard and it will be the only time that happens. I doubt I will still be around the next time they come to Scotland.”
That’s the reason Marshall doesn’t want to look back with any regrets. The bowls team will be selected in March so he is determined to use the first few months of the year to cement his place in the team. It would be unthinkable that anything other than injury would deny him and Foster a shot at the pairs, though.
Virtually unbeaten at pairs over the past few years, they have won the World Indoors three years on the trot and added the outdoor title last year and in 2006 they added another Commonwealth gold to the one Marshall had won in Manchester with George Sneddon.
“People do say that we are the best so there is a lot of pressure on us every time we play because everybody is out to be the best. But Paul is the best lead in the world and he trusts me to do the skipping behind him. We are a good team. We have been playing against and with each other for more than 20 years so I know his game and vice versa. We have a good understanding and that helps in the really big games because it is always about what you do on that day.”
Despite their dominance, the competition is fierce and, having gone to Melbourne in 2006 and defeated the Aussies on their own patch, he knows they will be targeting revenge in Glasgow. Along with the New Zealand team and the other home nations, he believes Australia will represent the biggest threat to his dream of another top podium place at Kelvingrove. But he is also aware of the growing threat from Malaysia and is hoping for fast greens to keep them at bay.
Having missed out on the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010, Marshall says he would be “gutted” if he had to watch the events in Glasgow from the sidelines. But, for a while, it was a real concern, with sciatica proving a major issue throughout 2013. “I had it on and off for seven or eight months and I eventually got a scan about four months ago and discovered the disc at the base of my back was leaning in and causing the pain. But I have been doing a lot of physio and going to the gym to lose a bit of weight and it has helped. I just didn’t want to leave anything to chance, not this year, so I’m doing everything I can to make sure I’m in the best shape I can be. I don’t want to look back with regrets.”
He opens his singles campaign at the Potters Resort against fellow Scot Julie Forrest and says that he knows the pressure will be intense. “It’s the first round, I’m playing a lady and people always support the underdog.”
In Norfolk maybe but, once the Saltire is hoisted in Glasgow this summer, he and Foster can expect to have a nation fully behind them and banking on their status as favourites.
n Alex Marshall was photographed at Kelvingrove Art Gallery as part of a series of Team Scotland “ones to watch” images released to mark 200 days to go until the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Keep up with all
the Team Scotland news on the official supporters’ website at goscotland.org or on