AT LAST, the waiting is over. The first bowl is about to be bowled, the first heat swum in the pool, the first race held in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.
After weeks of worrying about who will or will not turn up, it is time for those who are here, both Team Scotland and the other 70 competing nations, to show what they are made of. And, in the wake of some suggestions that the XXth Commonwealth Games will lack the glamour of the planet’s greatest sporting events, Scottish Athletics’ director of coaching Stephen Maguire insisted yesterday that the event will be world class.
Maguire’s own sport does not get under way until Sunday, by which time the home team should have won medals in the pool, at the velodrome, in the judo competition at the SECC, and at Barry Buddon near Carnoustie where the shooting is being held. But, as ever, it will be the athletics programme which defines the quality of these Games for many – and Maguire is convinced that it will be of the highest standard.
“The athletics here is world class, second only to the Olympics and World Championships,” he said.
“Usain Bolt is going to run in the relay, Mo Farah will be doing his thing. Veronica Campbell was knocking around the village, the Jamaicans have arrived – this is serious stuff.
“I’ve never been involved in a Commonwealths before, I’ve been involved in Olympics – and I don’t see any difference. I’m seeing Caribbean sprinters all in there, all training hard.
“We’ve got athletes capable of producing defining moments. I’m a great believer in momentum, and I think we can get up and running with good early performances. If these athletes do what I think they can do, we’re going to be off to a pretty fast start. That will generate momentum.”
At each of the last three Games, Scotland won two medals in track and field. Lee McConnell and Jamie Quarry in 2002, McConnell again along with Chris Baillie four years later, and then Eilidh Child and Steph Twell in Delhi.
While there is tougher in-depth competition than in any of the other 16 sports, Maguire is optimistic that this time the tally will be greater.
“That would be a sign of real progress, and I think we can do that, although I don’t want to put pressure on any individual athlete. We’ve a group of very talented athletes now and they’re hitting performances at just the right moment.
“Then, of course, you’ve got the hustle and bustle of heats and semis. We can see more there.
“I wish this was the fourth of August just now, that it was all over and we could be looking back on how brilliant it’s been.
“The athletes are going to love it. The world of athletics has become tougher, with the rise of the Caribbean and things like that. It’s a tougher world to survive in but you can see what we’ve been trying to do over the past couple of years. Most of my budget has been spent on developing coaches.”
Maguire was speaking in Kilmarnock, where the bulk of his squad were training in relative seclusion, well away from the buzz and bustle of Glasgow. A seasoned campaigner, he knows that one of the keys to performing well is to keep one’s feet on the ground in those final few days when it is all too easy to be carried away by excitement.
“The nice thing about being down here is the normality. It’s not about egos, not about athletes strutting their stuff. We’ve a job to do, they have to keep it real, get their programmes right, listen to their coach, get their proper rest and recovery – surround themselves with positivity.
“Eventually, they have to go to Hampden in front of that crowd. We will have people feeling the pressure. We will have people who haven’t experienced that before. But we go back to keeping things real or keeping things normal.
“I always ask them: ‘Where would you rather be? On some anonymous track in Scotland on a cold Wednesday night, in front of two men and a dog in an open-grade event?’ You’re actually going into this exciting environment where people want you to do well.
“The amount of goodwill we’ve had is amazing. If the athletes carry that with them…
“The crowd of 40,000, of course, is going to be noisy. They’re going to be excited. But they should know that every one of those fans wants them to do well. That’s massive.”