ANOTHER milestone in the journey to next year’s Commonwealth Games was reached yesterday when the Tollcross International Swimming Centre hosted its first major event since redevelopment.
The Scottish Championships, which go on until Sunday, got under way in the morning, offering home swimmers their first chance to compete at the Glasgow 2014 venue.
For elite swimmers such as Olympian Craig Benson, the meet is not as important as the British trials for the world championships in Sheffield later this month. But it is an opportunity to begin to accumulate knowledge that could be transformed into home advantage next summer.
Benson said: “The first time I competed here I was ten years old at the Scottish Schools Championships, so I know my way around. I felt like that was a big advantage in London as well, because we had a camp there in the March before the Olympics. It will be the same in Glasgow – except I’ll feel even more at home. You stand on the blocks knowing that 99 per cent of the crowd are cheering you on. You could really feel it in London coming down the last length so home advantage here is going to be massive.”
An Olympic semi-finalist in the 100-metres breaststroke, the 19-year-old from Livingston is also happy with some of the technical aspects of the new Tollcross pool, which he thinks will guarantee fast times.
“You can get different types of pools – you can get a faster pool or a slower pool,” he said. “Faster pools tend to be two to three metres deep, the water has to run smoothly over the surface, and you need good grip on the walls for the turns. This pool seems to have all of those.”
Benson spoke as the Scottish Government announced a two-year extension to its National Top-up Swimming Programme. The investment of a further £500,000 is designed to ensure that every primary school pupil is offered swimming lessons. Benson added: “I think it’s 40 per cent of primary-school kids can’t swim. If we can get those kids swimming, some of them would be potential Olympic competitors. And not only would it help at performance level, it would save people’s lives.”
Shona Robison MSP, the Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport, was on hand to watch Benson take part in a lesson with an enthusiastic group of learners from a Glasgow school.
“The programme is designed to ensure that those children who can’t swim are not leaving primary school without being given the chance to learn,” she said. “So far the programme has helped 14,500 children learn to swim who previously couldn’t. And it’s particularly important for children from a less well-off background, because a disproportionate amount of those children are not able to swim before they leave primary school.
“Lack of confidence is a factor in some cases, and I’ve met some kids who took weeks to actually go in the water. They’d never actually been in a pool in their lives. Those children have since learned to swim, and the transformation in making them more confident generally was amazing to see.”
Like Benson, Robison has been impressed by the new Tollcross complex, which features two full-sized pools. It has been open for community use since May and will benefit the people of Glasgow after the Commonwealth Games are over. “The facilities are amazing, not just for the swimmers who hope to represent Scotland but for people of all ages,” said Robison.