A lot has changed since Hannah Miley headed to her first Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006.
“For starters, it will be nice coming away from a Games knowing I don’t have to sit any Highers when I get back!” she laughs.
Back then she was a fresh prospect, new to the scene and keen to do her best and learn from the experience. The books she packed in her case helped bolster her knowledge of maths and biology sufficiently for her to take on the exams, but it was her swimming education that really came on leaps and bounds.
“Oh yeah, I remember it very, very clearly. It was just incredible,” she says, as she prepares for the start of her fourth Commonwealth Games, in the Gold Coast, in 94 days.
“Right from the word go, on day one, we were sitting in the stands – and it was a bit cool, so we’d been given parkas. We sat there all wrapped up and then, surprising everyone, Caitlin McClatchey rocks up and wins the 200 free – when Libby Lenton, the great Australian, was supposed to win it.
“That was it. We were on our feet, screaming at each other: “Yes! We can do this!”
“It created such a buzz that, every day, we were getting more and more medals, doing so much better than we could ever expect. We were quite a small team in comparison to the Aussies and Team England but, boy, did we have an impact. We were a force to be reckoned with.”
That Games provided Team Scotland with their best overseas medal haul, thanks in huge measure to the results in the pool. It is a tally the team bosses hope to better this time around.
“To be part of those history-making Games is something very special, something hard to put into words. We would go back to the house after competition and Caitlin would come by, show us her medal. It was lovely that you could talk to these guys.”
It helped every single swimmer in that team recognise their own potential and realise that coming from Scotland, they could still be champions. Their dreams were achievable dreams.
In Melbourne, Miley was not one of those who made it on to the podium. But she did finish fourth in the 400m individual medley and seventh over 200m. She also was given the incentive to keep working hard and experience of how to handle a major multi-sport event.
In Delhi four years later, she took gold in the 400m IM and repeated the feat in Glasgow in 2014. In April, she will seek to make history by becoming first Scot to win three gold medals in the same Commonwealth event at three successive games.
“It’s a little bit scary. But exciting at the same time. I try not to think about it too much because I don’t want to get to the situation where we expect history to be made – and, if I don’t do it, I’ll have missed out on something.
“The more I talk about it, that adds pressure. So yep, it’s there and there’s no way of hiding from it.
“If I am successful, it’s going to be pretty cool. But, if I’m not successful, I’ve learned from the Rio Olympics that it’s not the end of the world.
“I’m giving it everything I can because of this opportunity to make history. If it goes well, it’s going to be awesome. But if it doesn’t go well, no-one can say that I didn’t try everything.
“I’m trying to treat it like any other competition. It’s my fourth Commonwealth games, no different to Glasgow, Delhi or Melbourne. To be honest, it’s not different to the nationals. Yes, I’m racing against quick people but I’m effectively putting on a performance that I’ve put on a hundred times before.”
A tough competitor, she has had so many ups in her career, with medals on the Commonwealth, European and World stage but the absence of an Olympic medal haunted her until she found an acceptance and a way to process her sixth, fifth and fourth place finishes in Beijing, London and Rio.
“I’ve learned from experience and know that, yes, coming away with a material thing like a medal is what sports people compete for. But there’s a lot more to it than just the medals. I’m learning a lot about myself and how I deal with it.”
Medals remain the target for individuals and for the team bosses, who are judged on such things. Miley recognises that but says it is not always easy to predict.
“This team right now, I think the level of quality is huge. So the potential they have to make big jumps, to be in among the medals and compete against the best, it’s great.
“When we went into Melbourne, I don’t think anybody expected that. But heading into these Games now, who knows what will happen? If we can replicate what we did in Melbourne, terrific. But we can’t control our competitors. You can’t say definitely where the medals will come.”
“It’s very, very tricky. For me, focus on other things, not PBs or touching the wall first – because if that doesn’t happen, you feel depressed. I just make sure that everything I do is to the best of my ability. And then give some more. I genuinely just love being in the water, so I enjoy it regardless of medals.
“I only really figured that out after Rio. It is hard to get away from the medal side of things because it is always there. It takes a very special someone to be able to switch that off. Robbie Renwick was one of the best. He just got up and raced. Nothing fazed him. He could put everything to one side, almost switch off his head and focus solely on what he was doing in the water. That’s a skill that a lot of athletes should develop. But I totally understand why governing bodies need the medals, need the results.”
On the whole, Miley has delivered those results consistently and the 28-year-old would love to continue that trend in Gold Coast. In 2006, she was one of the newcomers and the focus was on the medallists but those Games have fuelled her desire and her drive ever since.
“For me, Melbourne was the turning point, where I decided that this was what I wanted to do as a career. I wanted to take swimming as far as I could, go all in. So I have Melbourne and the swimmers there to thank for where I am today, really.”