Team Scotland: Why it's about 'more than just medals' at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games
That the Games have groped around unsuccessfully for a post-colonial identity is evoked in this memorable quote from one of the few books written about them.
They have been buffeted against market forces, haunted by unwilling and incompetent hosts, an all-swimming, all-dancing anachronism.
But they have implacably endured, like the Head of the Commonwealth herself, and evolved into a unique sporting treasure that begins in Birmingham this week.
They bring Northern Ireland versus Norfolk Island, an Indian track cyclist called David Beckham, lawn bowlers with one limb and Jamaican sprint superstars.
‘The Friendly Games’ are more important than ever in a weary world that needs real races rather than leadership ones, where the only thing that’s run from is the truth.
The only late cuts happening here are on the cricket field as 4,500 athletes from 72 nations come together to compete across 19 sports.
Thanks to the addition of women’s T20 cricket there will be more medal events for women - 136 - than men, who can compete in 134.
The thoroughly successful integration of disability sport into the programme continues and stars of the Paralympics get a rare chance to perform in front of packed venues.
It remains the pinnacle for netball, lawn bowls and squash, while some of the world’s best assemble in swimming, hockey, triathlon, and athletics.
Australia used home advantage on the Gold Coast in 2018 to wrest top spot in the medal table back from England who will doubtless hope to return the favour.
The Commonwealth Games occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of Scots with memories of Glasgow’s successful staging in 2014 still fresh.
Edinburgh’s chaotic 1986 staging is folkloric although New Delhi’s efforts in 2010, where scoring systems failed and they had to be recorded by hand, made them look slick.
Team Scotland houses Olympic gold medallists, newly crowned world champions and big-stage novices, aiming to improve on the 44 medals that were won four years ago.
It is home to 61-year-old lawn bowler Robert Barr and 16-year-old para swimmer Sam Downie, diversity celebrated by Chef De Mission Eleanor Middlemiss.
“Team Scotland are more than just medals,” said Middlemiss, the first woman to assume the senior leadership role.
“We have so many inspirational athletes across the 18 sports. Each has their own stories and their own aims for these Games, and we are just hopeful they perform at their best and achieve what they are looking for.
“It is the one and only opportunity the athletes get to represent Team Scotland at a multi-sport Games, and they are proud and really excited by it.
“You can see that by the number of top athletes who are prioritising the Commonwealth Games even in their ever-busy summer schedule.”
That is particularly true for Scotland’s history-making track and field contingent, for whom a home Games is sandwiched in between World and European Championships.
Eugene hero Jake Wightman and Olympic medallists Laura Muir and Josh Kerr signed up to Team Scotland in October.
Middle-distance icon Muir competed in Glasgow aged 21, finishing 11th, and missed the Gold Coast to focus on her veterinary exams.
Tantalisingly, a medal would see Muir complete the set of major championship honours.
There is a shot at immediate retribution for Beth Dobbin, Neil Gourley, Nicole Yeargin, and others for whom the World Championship brought frustrations and near misses.
Eilish McColgan, whose family history is laced through the Games, returns.
Elsewhere Duncan Scott missed swimming’s World Championships due to long Covid symptoms but will be back to spearhead Scotland’s challenge in the pool.
His racing schedule isn’t for the faint-hearted - he has entered nine events and will race five times on the second day of competition.
In rugby sevens Scotland’s men will aspire to go one small step further than a group-stage exit by a fine margin in 2018 and the women join the party for the first time at Coventry Arena.
The Thistles are setting the bar at outperforming their netball world ranking of ninth that they failed to do at Gold Coast.
They are on the right track under the enterprising leadership of Tamsin Greenway with supermum Claire Maxwell at the helm and young stars set to shine.
Lynne Beattie and Melissa Coutts are once again the beach volleyball pairing and they have an attractive group-stage clash with England on August 2.
The hockey teams will be led by two of the finest forwards in the game, Alan Forsyth on the men’s side and Sarah Robertson on the women’s side.
Scotland are well represented at the Games debut of 3x3 basketball.
It is played by three plates on a half-court with a smaller, lighter ball, with the shot clock time of 24 seconds halved to 12, making for a frantic, fast-paced affair.
The women’s wheelchair team features Paralympians Robyn Love and Jude Hamer while the able-bodied groups are anchored by internationalists Gareth Murray and Hannah Robb.
Lynne Beattie and Melissa Coutts are once again the beach volleyball pairing and they have an attractive group-stage clash with England on 2 August.
It won’t feel like a home Games for Team Scotland that day, but athletes should be roared on by a vocal travelling contingent.
Middlemiss said: “We are very hopeful ahead of these games and we are expecting a huge travelling support from fans, friends and family and I think that will really inspire our athletes to success.
“If the competition venues down in Birmingham are noisy and full of saltires that would be fantastic.
“The athletes have had to compete in front of empty stands, or their friends and family haven’t been able to travel even if they’ve been at the competition due to Covid.
“I just think having a UK-based Games is a great positive for Team Scotland.”
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