Glasgow gets set as European Championships come to town

Hannah Miley, Olympic and Commonwealth Games swimmer. Pic: Michael Gillen
Hannah Miley, Olympic and Commonwealth Games swimmer. Pic: Michael Gillen
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Hannah Miley is trying to do justice to the positive qualities of a vociferous home support.

“You don’t just hear it, you feel it,” enthuses, the multi-medalled swimmer. “It’s an inspiring, awesome feeling.”

The 28-year-old has competed all over the world, at Olympics and world level and at Commonwealth Games and European Championships, but it is memories of the gold medal-winning 400m Individual Medley race in front of the predominantly Scottish crowd at Glasgow 2014 that still gives her goosebumps.

“Especially on the breaststroke leg, every time your head breaks the surface you hear this shot of noise and then your head goes back under and then out again to another burst of noise. It really hits you and there is nothing quite like it.”

Just as her lungs were burning and her body was screaming for mercy, she turned for the final time and headed for the finish.

“I will never forget the huge eruption. I think I turned just about ahead of Aimee [Willmott] and the noise as I came off that wall, I really felt it and it helped me so much in that final 50m. You try to stay focused, stay in the zone but you can feel the noise coursing through your chest, it really does fire you up so much.”

This week the Scottish crowd will again be asked to come out en masse and put their weight behind the Team GB athletes, as Glasgow, along with Berlin, hosts the inaugural European Championships. A multi-sport event, it brings the existing European Championships for athletics, aquatics, cycling, gymnastics, rowing and triathlon and a new golf team championships, all under the one umbrella and will again see the nation treated to a jamboree of elite level performances with the promise of home medals.

In the wake of Glasgow 2014, there was plenty of talk about legacy but the fact that thousands of the world best sports men and women will descend on the country this week – the diving will be staged at the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh and the golf will be contested at Gleneagles – is just one of the enduring rewards, according to Miley. She says the fact that there are quality facilities capable of hosting six of the seven sports – the athletics will be contested in Germany – a proven infrastructure and an enduring trust in the Scottish sporting public, is thanks to those Commonwealth Games.

The 11-day celebration of sport is expected to take Scotland’s sporting reputation to the next level, with around 3,000 athletes expected as part of a total delegation of around 8,500 including officials, media and others. A further 1,500 athletes will compete in Berlin and, with participants from 52 countries, organisers are suggesting a potential television audience of up to 1.03 billion across Europe.

But it is the opportunity it affords the next generation of Scotland’s sporting hopefuls that excites Miley.

“This will hopefully encourage youngsters to stay in the sport or take up the sport and it helps us maintain the momentum,” she asserts, claiming that seeing household names up close and personal will simply fuel those dreams. It is not just a PR soundbite, that view stems from personal experience.

“I remember being on a family holiday in 2000 and the Olympic trials were being held in Sheffield and my dad and grandad decided to go and watch and they took me with them. I would have been ten.

“These were the athletes who would hopefully make the team for the Olympic Games and in the foyer they had these massive posters and there was one of Mark Foster, of James Hickman and one of Graeme Smith, all in these mega model poses. I had no idea how to pay for them or how much they cost but I took one of each and walked off. I had these posters and I was hanging over the edge [of the spectator gallery], desperately trying to get them to sign it and there was only one swimmer who did. It was fellow Scot Graeme Smith, who had won Olympic bronze medal for the 1,500m [at Atlanta in 1996] and I remember being so chuffed.

“When I got back from holidays I had them stuck on my wall and that memory has always stayed with me. That was me at the age of ten and it made a really big impression on me. So to see kids coming to watch the Commonwealth Games or Duel in the Pool and to see them hanging over the edge and trying to get signatures, it reminds me of being in that position and the impact that had on me as a youngster. It really inspired me. When the athlete takes the time to stop for you and sign something it really does make a huge difference. I would like to keep that trend going.

“Youngsters can learn so much from seeing the major events live. Yes, you can learn a lot from the internet and YouTube videos but to actually be there at an event and feel the atmosphere and the reaction of the crowd, especially as they are roaring on the home favourite, you can’t beat that. It is so much better than watching on a TV or computer screen. It is something special and I am really looking forward to swimming and hearing the crowd at this event but I’m also really excited to see how that inspires the young swimmers who will be there. Hopefully, it will be a turning point for them.”

From that impressionable kid, Miley has gone on to compete at three Olympics, reaching the final each time, and collected medals at world, European and Commonwealth level, and while her silver at Gold Coast earlier this year fell shy of pre-Games hopes of three successive gold medals in the same event, she left Australia with her name etched in history.

“It was very hard to keep myself in a little bubble and keep the talk of triple gold to the side and I had to work hard to think of it as just another race and I gave it my all. But, I was still able to come away as the most decorated 400m individual medley swimmer in the history of the Commonwealth Games, which I am really pleased with.

“It is an achievement I had no awareness of until someone told me. But the previous girl who had that title was the Australian Jennifer Reilly, who I had raced against in 
my very first Commonwealth Games in 2006. She got three medals in three consecutive Games but hers weren’t two golds and a silver, I think she had a bronze in there so I feel like it came full circle. Looking back at it our 400m IM podium was probably the oldest but I take pride from the fact that we were all still at the top in a really difficult event.

“The Commonwealth Games, as much as I would have loved to top the podium, gave me a reality check because, in sport, we have to accept that sometimes things don’t go according to plan.”

Part of a large GB representation, with swimming selectors making the most of the generous four-person limit per nation, per discipline, albeit that only two will be allowed to progress into the semi-finals, Miley says that will give the Brits in the crowds plenty of heroes to cheer, with the Scots in the team likely to earn even more encouragement from the locals.

“I am feeling good, my form is good and I love the fact that we are able to host these events. You have the sense of pride, as a scottish athlete, that you have people coming here to compete. It is like when you get someone over to your house and you want to show them everything and be the best host and I really hope that those who are coming really get to enjoy Glasgow and have a memorable experience.”

The Championships will be staged from 2-12 August and with tickets for most events still available, the hope is that the rest of the country will want to play their part. “And if we put on another great show, give everyone a warm Scottish welcome and if we get positive feedback then hopefully we have the potential to host even more events in the future,” added Miley.