SCOTTISH athletics fans have been warned not to expect miracles at Hampden this summer. But the man who will lead the nation’s track and field team at the Commonwealth Games does expect an improvement on recent medal hauls.
Scottish Athletics director of coaching Stephen Maguire is predicting between two and five medals, “the shinier the better”. It is 20 years since Scotland last struck athletics gold in a Commonwealth Games, and 24 years since they earned more than two of any colour at a single games, which puts this summer’s target into perspective.
“I always go back to the point where if our athletes compete to the best of their ability then two to five medals isn’t going to be too big a deal because we have athletes who are capable of doing that, but they have to realise their potential on that given day and that’s the trick,” says Maguire. “That’s the message we are sending out to the coaches. The preparation needs to be right to prepare for the two weeks in Glasgow, where they can go out and compete without the pressure while still feeding off the intensity of the crowd and the whole feelgood factor. Most of them will be fine.”
The indoor International Match featuring teams from GB & NI, USA and a Commonwealth Select will give everyone a taste of what’s to come. Hosted at the Emirates Stadium in Glasgow this Saturday, it is expected to be a sell-out and, while only a handful of Scots took part in recent years as members of the GB side or the Commonwealth Select, this year there will be a full Scottish team entered to give as many home athletes as possible the chance to experience a partisan crowd.
“I think it’s a given that as soon as someone in a Scottish singlet appears on the track at Hampden Park, the place is going to erupt,” says Maguire. “People are going to support every Scot, from the youngest athlete to the likes of Eilish McColgan, Eilidh Child, Lynsey Sharp, Laura Muir, Chris O’Hare, it’s going to be absolutely equal. I think we’re going to have a massive knock-on effect from London as well, where anybody in a GB singlet, you know, they [the crowd] went through the roof when people probably didn’t even know who they [the athletes] were. I don’t think it will matter really where they are ranking, I think it’s a given for the Scottish public [to offer huge support].”
While Maguire witnessed that backing in London, where he was involved with the Irish team, he says it will be new to many of the Scots involved this summer and he wants them all prepared so that, rather than wilt in the spotlight, they can turn it into a major positive.
“Our meet [this Saturday] is so important. A lot of our younger athletes don’t have that experience, firstly of the multi-sport games, and the other thing is competing in front of big crowds when it’s representative. We have very limited international outlets. That multi-sport environment is different and the Commonwealth Games will be different from that, too.
“I think the crowd will have a big, big impact, massive in fact. But it can work the opposite way as well if the athletes aren’t prepared for that. We have seen it in the past, people going backwards a little bit when that intensity and pressure is cranked up.
“I think, again, the big thing is that the athletes are aware enough to embrace all that. They are going to be patted on the back and they need to accept it for what it is. They need to go out there and run with a smile on their face and they will be grand.
“I think the potential our younger ones have is massive, Chris O’Hare, Laura Muir, and Eilidh [Child] is still a young athlete and the way she is progressing, she is going to become a big challenger globally. Hopefully the Commonwealths allow them to kick on again. If you look at Lynsey Sharp, who has been injured for a while, she knows how to win, she knows how to medal and if she can get herself into shape, then she will be there and it’s the same with Eilish McColgan. The world champion [Milcah Cheywa of Kenya] has pulled out according to reports so Eilish is a real contender and they are leaving no stone unturned. She has been training in Kenya and in the States and now she’s back in Kenya and she is a very focused girl and, for us, we have to manage expectations and make sure that they all come into the Games healthy. If those athletes come in healthy then the Scottish public are going to have a good time.”
Only in the job since 2012, Maguire admits he would have preferred more time to get even more athletes into medal contention but stresses that, with realistic expectations, the athletics events in Glasgow will be a highlight.
“But I think it’s part of my job to keep things sane and keep things nice and level. Going to the Commonwealth Games, you have to embrace it, you have to smile. No one is going to die, you just have to grab the opportunity. Where would you rather be? In Hampden Park with 50,000 people or in another track up the country, in front of hardly anyone and just plodding around? This is a brilliant opportunity for our sport and for the athletes on the team.
“It is incredibly hard to get to a Commonwealth final, on the podium, they are very special people who do that. That’s one of the things we’ve got to acknowledge. But it’s part of my job and the job of Scottish Athletics to nurture the talent and the coaches.
“I have said it a lot that I thought Irish sports fans were crazy about sport but, you know what, Scottish sports fans are even crazier. Even talking to people and seeing the energy from people. I’ve been saying to the athletes that anyone who can get on to a podium at Hampden, their lives will change in Scotland because of that and because of the profile and energy. They are going to become stars and that’s a massive opportunity.”