IN PROBABLY the most dramatic moment of the Games so far – and certainly the most politically charged – a free spirit called Wallace won a precious victory and cried out “For freedom!” in front of a jubilant crowd.
Dan Wallace, a 21-year-old from Edinburgh, had just won the 400 metres individual medley and was intent on celebrating in style. He slapped the water in jubilation, waved his arms to urge the crowd to get even louder, and was then presented with a quaich by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who was part of the presentation ceremony.
The noise from that crowd was so loud that people could not hear what he had shouted. On the big screen it looked plain enough, even though there were those who thought at first that he had been about to shout an expletive. Minutes after getting his gold medal – Scotland’s third of the Games in the pool – Wallace confirmed that he had indeed uttered the cry made famous by the film Braveheart, about his namesake William Wallace’s struggle for national liberation seven centuries ago. “I just yelled at the top of my lungs ‘For freedom!’, because being here with the home crowd has really brought out the Braveheart and the Scot inside of me,” he said. “I just thought I’d soak up the moment. I watched it just last week to get ready for this. It’s such a Scottish thing and it warms my heart seeing stuff like this, I thought I’d soak it up and have a bit of fun.”
Asked if he had ever tried to trace his family tree and discover if there was a connection, however distant, with William Wallace, he replied: “I haven’t, no, but I’m sure there’s a little bit of Wallace in everyone,” before revealing what Sturgeon had said to him.
“She just said that it was a fantastic race and she’s really proud of me. I think the whole of Scotland are, and I’m proud of them also.”
Just a couple of months ago, Wallace was not so much a free spirit as an out-of-control one. A night out in Florida to celebrate his 21st birthday ended with his being arrested for urinating on a police car. No charges were brought, and after he issued a wholehearted apology a line was drawn under the matter, but he was suspended for a time from the University of Florida swimming team, and he knew that if the case had gone to court he could have been dropped from the Scotland team for these Games.
Deciding he had had a fortunate escape, he quickly resolved not to be so indisciplined again. “I was very close [to being kicked off the team]. I got to the point in my life where I really had to re-evaluate which path I wanted to take, and I think I chose the right one. And it’s ended in a gold medal for me and the whole of Scotland, so I’m very happy with that. I was kind of living the life of a rock star but still trying to perform in the pool and you can’t do both. It’s all about moderation. I think I’ve learned from those experiences and it’s starting to pay off now.
“It was kind of a wake-up call. I think I responded really well to that and definitely turned my life around. I’m a professional athlete and everything you have to do is in moderation and it’s paid off. There’s no looking back from here. I’m going to celebrate with a cup of tea and give my parents a few hugs.”
Wallace knew that his moment of madness had jeopardised three years of financial sacrifice by his family, who had sold up in Scotland and moved to Florida in order to support his burgeoning career in sport. When he celebrated at the end with his parents and many other members of his family, he was thanking them for their understanding as well as inviting them to join in his moment of triumph.
“That just makes it all worth it, seeing almost my whole family at the end of the presentation. My mum was in tears, my sister wouldn’t stop hugging me – that’s why I’m doing it. I’m doing it for them. They get as much satisfaction as I do and it’s just a phenomenal feeling. It was a big commitment moving to Florida and we had a lot of changes.”
The race itself was a masterclass in timing, as Wallace stayed calm throughout the first two legs despite being a few metres off the pace. He took control in the breaststroke, and held his lead with an unshakable will in the freestyle leg to win in 4mins 11.20. Thomas Fraser-Holmes of Australia was second in 4:12.04, ahead of South Africa’s Sebastien Rousseau, third in 4:13.09. Wallace’s team-mates Lewis Smith and Ross Muir were fifth and eighth respectively.
“I knew where I had to be at 200, and I knew without a doubt I had the best breaststroke leg in that field,” Wallace added. “So I just had to keep my nerve and believe that I was going to pull through.”
He replied “That would be pretty cool” when asked if he would like to meet the First Minister. Expect it to be arranged in the very near future.
Hannah Miley successfully defended her 400m individual medley Commonwealth title on Day One, but last night Robbie Renwick could do nothing about holding on to his 200m freestyle crown. The Australian duo of Fraser-Holmes and Cameron McEvoy dominated the four-lap final from start to finish, claiming gold and silver respectively. Fifth at the final turn, Renwick briefly threatened to challenge for bronze, but could not improve on that position. Instead, third place went to Calum Jarvis of Wales.
Renwick later raced for Scotland, along with Richard Schafers, Kieran McGuckin and Duncan Scott in the final of the 4x100m freestyle, the last event of Day Two in the pool. Again, he and his team-mates were just unable to mount a real challenge for medals, finishing fourth behind Australia, South Africa and England.