THE pressure must be intense. If it is, from the outside looking in, Hannah Miley is coping with it extremely well.
As the Scottish swim team went through their final preparations in Aberdeen this week, her demeanour was unchanged. As always she was friendly and engaging and happy to blether. But come the opening day of competition when all eyes are on the Tollcross pool in Glasgow, the onus is on her and the likes of Michael Jamieson and Robbie Renwick to get the Commonwealth Games medal juggernaut rolling.
“To be honest, we just kind of keep ourselves to ourselves because the more you talk about it, the more we put pressure on ourselves,” said Miley. “We don’t really say much about it because we can’t really do anything about it now, we just have to wait until the day and then do it! You can talk about it or complain about it, you can do that all you like, but it’s not going to help the end result. The only thing that will help the end result is what you do in the pool training-wise. Maturity-wise, that’s kind of what we have learned, particularly myself, MJ and Robbie. We have just got to go in there and do it and if that’s good enough to get medals then, yeah, it’s all positive and if it’s not then we will need to pick ourselves up and help pick the team up to make sure others can step up. But it is nice that it’s not just one person going out there with that medal expectation. It’s nice to know that there are others as well.”
It was success in the first day in Melbourne in 2006 that is credited with helping Scotland to its best haul of gold at a Commonwealth Games ever. There were more podium places in Edinburgh in 1986, but, in amongst the tally of 33 medals, there were only three golds. In Australia eight years ago, the 11 golds accounted for more than a third of the 29 medals the team brought home.
“I was the baby of the team then, so it was amazing watching the top dogs going in and especially with Caitlin [McLatchey] on day one coming away with the gold medal. That was really unexpected and we were all like, ‘Wow! Oh my goodness!’ Then getting to see the medals afterwards made it more real and it did give the team a bit of a boost knowing that we were on our way – we were on a roll. It really boosts the morale and it definitely helps. A lot of the team members will ride off that positivity and it’s a weird thing, when you swim well, all of a sudden you keep swimming well because you are coming off that high and it is infectious and that helps all your team-mates, so hopefully that will happen again and we can start well and everyone else can ride off that high.”
She delivered victory in the 400m individual medley in Delhi four years ago and is one of the favourites to repeat the feat this month. The main rival is England’s Aimee Wilmott, but she is cautious. At the Olympics in London she was left distraught after the Chinese swimmers made significant jumps to surprise many onlookers and deny her a medal. So she knows that while the Auld Enemy tussle is the most likely scenario, it’s not the only one possible.
“It happened with the Chinese girl and the thing is I was aware of what her race plan was. I knew her last 100m was always quick. I just didn’t know it was going to be that quick! I knew she was a very strong finisher. A lot of people were like ‘I never saw her coming’ and I was like, ‘I kinda did but that’s because I am a swim geek and I tend to research things to death’.
“It is kind of strange with people saying, ‘it is just between you and Scotland versus England, Aimee versus Hannah’ when there are others in a race who, although they are not really on the radar, might just come flying through. I am always aware of that and that idea of a polarised race I tend to put to one side.”
In the mind of others though, this is viewed as an exciting head-to-head, battle to the finish, with Scotland desperate for the bragging rights.
“We do have a lot of pressure and we are always reminded that we have to match what we did in Melbourne and it will always be difficult to try to do that because it’s not the same situation or the same circumstances. We have different athletes, up against different competitors and there are so many different variables. It will be tough to match it, but we are a Scottish team and we won’t go down without a fight. We will definitely give it our all, or ‘gie it laldy’ as we say, and that’s one of the best things about being part of the Scotland team.”
Born in England with an Irish father, the Commonwealth Games could be seen as a bit of a conundrum for Miley, but she is pretty unequivocal. Proud to have represented Great Britain throughout her career, when the nations split every four years she has no doubts where her loyalties lie.
“I have got Celtic blood. With my dad being Irish, that side of me comes out a lot more. My dad never lets me forget it and being brought up in Scotland as well, I think that Celtic heritage just feels more natural to me. If somebody said, ‘if you couldn’t represent Scotland, would you rather represent England, I’d think, ‘no, I’d rather represent Ireland’ because in my blood I have just got that fighting spirit and that’s very similar to Wales and Scotland as well. I don’t know what it is, it’s just some sort of weird celtic thing and I have lived up here for 24 years now. I can’t control where I was born! It is a bit of a mixed one, I am a bit of an all-rounder but my heart lies in the pool doing the fastest I can regardless of what colour of cap I wear because I know a lot of people especially with the independence question ask would you rather race as Scotland or Great Britain and to be honest I am on the fence with that, I don’t want to make a decision because A) that’s not what it’s about for me and B) it’s about being able to get in and just swim as fast and hard as I can and hopefully come away with a medal. Whoever I represent, that will be the main thing. I am doing it for myself and my family.”
As her coach, her father Peter gets a lot of the credit but she insists any medal she wins will be for her mum and brothers as well.
Mum Carmel is the glue that holds it all together. A shared love of girlie TV, shoes and clothes allows them to bond and offers temporary distractions from the intensity of swimming while, in the pool, her younger brothers, Alastair, who is 19, and 16-year-old Joseph have proved invaluable as training partners.
“They have been the ones absolutely slaughtering me in training and reminding me I have to be on my game at all times, I am not allowed a tired day because if I do get tired, they enjoy kicking my arse. It’s good because it makes me step up and I want to give them a run for their money because then I can say ‘beaten by a girl’. It’s quite nice that banter side of things.”
The stakes are arguably higher in Glasgow, with more than family superiority at stake. But they were high four years ago and she delivered and if she is pipped this time, it won’t be for a lack of effort.