MICHAEL Jamieson is the canny sort of athlete who deals with overblown expectations by walking up to an invisible bar in his own imagination, removing it and repositioning it as high as he can reach.
The Glaswegian was not expected by the elite swimming fraternity to set the British standard at last year’s London Olympics. But his silver medal in the 200 metres breaststroke was the highlight for the home team, and nobody bettered it at the recent World Championships in Barcelona, where the British effort yielded only a single bronze.
Unlike in London, Jamieson did not exceed expectations in Barcelona, which is probably only a natural result for a competitor who, prior to London, had never smelt a world record let alone come within touching distance of one. So there has been a realignment of expectations, which is no bad thing.
A danger always existed that, with the Commonwealth Games coming to his home city and so few people in the general populace realising the intricacies and imponderables that separate a great swim from a good one, Jamieson would automatically be installed as the gold-medal favourite in Glasgow based on one terrific Olympics.
There is every chance his form will make that billing justifiable next July, so it is a mercy that the 24 year-old is the kind of character who welcomes expectation with a “bring it on” philosophy that may be partly derived from his lifelong support of Celtic.
“It’s not something that scares me. As I’ve always said, I expect results from myself and I’m my own harshest critic, so if I don’t get the results I’m looking for, I’ll be as disappointed as anyone else,” he said yesterday on a visit to Tollcross Park to promote the opening of ticket sales.
“Aside from any external pressures, that’s common sense – you want to always better yourself, and I’m going to be first in the pool this season training towards the result everyone is looking for. We want to be winning medals and breaking records as much as everyone wants to see it.”
Jamieson was mortified by his fifth-placed finish in the World Championships, but it is hard to believe he would not have taken that result if offered it 18 months ago.
In a Commonwealth Games context, it made little difference to his chances of 200m gold except that he finished behind one man – his training partner, Andrew Willis – who will be among his rivals in Glasgow. Jamieson lost to the Englishman by a hundredth of a second.
Nothing has changed, really. A repeat of Jamieson’s London 2012 swim will almost certainly be enough for Glasgow to hail him as Earl of the East End in 12 months’ time. A swim the like of which he produced in Barcelona should have him in the ballpark of a gold medal too.
It rankles with him, though, if he is now classified like the long jumper Greg Rutherford in a bracket of London heroes who couldn’t keep the good times rolling. “I was so determined not to fall into that post-Olympic lull and I really don’t think I have. I feel it was taken out of my hands,” Jamieson said.
“I was in great shape in the lead-up to it, I was really confident and swimming faster than I was before London. But the disappointment has subsided now. Now, I’m thinking what better way to set up a Commonwealth season after such a disappointment.
“I was looking to get a medal at Barcelona, and I know I was capable of doing that, but I guess injuries are part and parcel of the sport and you need to take it on the chin.”
Jamieson embraces the fact he will inspire a parochial cacophony in Tollcross. A humble sort, he appears to be still in awe of the fact he peaked so dramatically in London, so unaccustomed to star treatment that it has not lost its appeal.
One thing he will not be doing, as much as he would like to, is wading through crowds of well-wishers on Argyle Street in the weeks and months leading up to his second “Home Games”.
“If I was training in Tollcross every day, I might get a bit excited to be honest,” he said when asked whether he would exile himself in Bath, where he has been based since 2009, as the buzz around Glasgow grows.
“It’s great to get a bit of both worlds really. I have a great coaching and support network in Bath at the minute but I also have the freedom to come up to Glasgow for days like today to really get a taste of what next summer is going to be like,” he said.
“I’ve made a decision over the last couple of years to spend as much time based in Bath and doing as much training as a I possible can. That’s something with which I’m constantly trying to find a balance.
“For me primarily the focus is on training and performance but at the same time, I want to be here sampling the build-up. From an athlete’s point of view it doesn’t get any bigger than this.”