Ross Murdoch loving ’almost’ celebrity lifestyle

A MURDOCH is a wondrous, unexpected event, apparently. Earning a place in the Scots urban dictionary was one of the more surreal by-products of a Commonwealth Games which saw Ross Murdoch win gold in the 200m breaststroke, defeating poster boy and pre-event favourite Michael Jamieson in the process, before adding a bronze over 100m.

Ross Murdoch at Stirling University's pool yesterday. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Ross Murdoch at Stirling University's pool yesterday. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

That was over a year ago, but it’s only now that the 21-year-old is contemplating getting the medals polished up and returning them to their presentation boxes. It seemed pointless before, such was the unrelenting nature of the interest in a lad who has remained as thankful, humble and joyful as he was the night he emerged from the Tollcross pool as a Commonwealth champion. But a combination of things calming down slightly and the acquisition of a new set of medals means he can now put those 2014 baubles away.

At the recent World Championships, he added an individual bronze over 100m and a gold in the relay. Those added to an impressive collection, which he hopes he can bolster further at next year’s Olympics.

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“It has been a bit mad. I have had a touch of almost the celebrity lifestyle,” he says. “People do recognise you and you hear people whispering and even on Tuesday, I finally got round to stopping for the kids who live on my estate here in Stirling. They see my car and chase it along the street. It’s mad but it is cool as well. They often come around asking for autographs and things without pens and paper, so I finally got to sit down with them and gave them an autograph and a wee photo and things like that.

“I’m glad to have the opportunity to do these types of things. It is still a little bit strange, but I love it and it’s great to have the support. People around here are so good to me and I’m doing what I love to do, so I can only thank everybody who has helped me along the way and who continue to support me all the way to Rio.”

That is where his Olympic dream is focused. He has loved every minute of his Commonwealth achievements but he does not want them to define him. He has revelled in razzmatazz of things like the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards night, where Murdoch was flummoxed by his proximity to guys like Lewis Hamilton, who he views as more than an F1 driver. “He is a celebrity, a superstar, recognised around the world, I just wasn’t sure I deserved to be sitting along from him. But it was cool.”

That self-deprecation is part of his character and a consequence of his grounded upbringing. Confessing to nerves ahead of presenting an award at that ceremony, it was his mum who responded in a way only a mother could.

“She said: ‘You’ve competed in front of thousands of people effectively wearing nothing more than your pants, so how can you be nervous about standing up in front of people and reading off a card fully clothed?’” he says with a smile and a wee shake of the head.

But his family are proud, even if his brother is slightly put out by his sibling’s soaring status. “I was given a collage of photos from the Commonwealth Games – all the medallists got one – and a photo of the family came down so that one could go up and my brother, Scott, wasn’t impressed. “He complained he’s got one less photo up in the house now. He said he knew I was the favourite!”

But there is no way that things are going to Murdoch’s head. As he talks, he pays tribute to those who have helped him, his funders, his family, his coaches, his training mates. He says he is like the front man in a band. He couldn’t do it alone, he says.

Most of all, he is grateful for the publicity he can generate for his sport. “I do know that football dominates the world and so I know it’s not often that someone breaks through and becomes a name that people recognise. I even got my own weegie word last year after the Commonwealth Games which is fantastic. It was really, really cool to hear that and my family were very proud of that. It is pretty cool to think that people might know my name now. They might not know my face, but they would know my name and know that I’m a swimmer and that is good for the sport as well.

“I like that I have been able to help get my sport the recognition it deserves. I know I’m biased, and I do love a lot of other sports, but swimming is special. I truly, truly love it.”

Sitting at the edge of the Stirling University pool, he explains that Lane 5 is his domain. That’s where he covers lap after lap, day after day, twice a day. He knows every minor quirk in the patchwork of bricks that line the floor, and reveals there is even a slight rusting three quarters of the way down the pool which looks like a smile.

That monotonous dedication brought its reward in the Commonwealth Games, but it almost also cost him his World Championship medals and has disrupted but, in no way, derailed his build-up to this vital Olympic year.

Some might assume that is due to his head being turned by his new-found fame and out-
of-pool demands, but it was the opposite.

“That was one of the things that took me by storm after the Commonwealth Games. A lot of people said that, when you get medals, you have to be careful not to get complacent and stop working hard, and that was one of the things that showed up my immaturity because I heard so many people saying that I didn’t stop working hard. In fact, I didn’t stop at all.

“Following the CWG, I had the European Championships and then there was only a week and a half before training started again back here and I didn’t even take that time off. I kept training hard because I didn’t want people to look at me say he had a little bit of success and then started to fail.

“I was determined not to be that athlete and, ultimately, I got ill. I didn’t give my body enough time to heal and recover and that scuppered this season a little bit, but I learned a lot from that and I have taken three weeks off this summer to let myself recover and now I’m getting back into the pool.

“The Commonwealth Games were fantastic, but that’s not the end, that was just the beginning of what I want to achieve. I want to push on through Rio in 2016 onto 2018 Commonwealth Games and then Toyko for the 2020 Olympic Games.”

With so much strength in depth, even making the GB in his events will be tough but he believes in himself. The medals may be going into storage, but they serve as ongoing motivation and the lessons learned since winning them make him an even more potent threat.