Stuart Bathgate: Scots’ success at Glasgow 2014

IT BEGAN with a heatwave and ended in a downpour. But for Team Scotland, every day of Glasgow 2014 simply rained medals.
Alex Gladkov of Scotland celebrates a Bronze medal, one of 53 in total won by the hosts. Picture: Neil HannaAlex Gladkov of Scotland celebrates a Bronze medal, one of 53 in total won by the hosts. Picture: Neil Hanna
Alex Gladkov of Scotland celebrates a Bronze medal, one of 53 in total won by the hosts. Picture: Neil Hanna

The official, minimal target was 34 – one more than Scotland had won at any previous Commonwealth Games. The private target was somewhere around 40. As the curtain came down on 11 days of competition last night, the final total was 53.

By any reckoning, this has been a remarkable achievement. For the team and management, who showed that, when united, 17 sports can be far more than the sum of their parts. For the individual athletes, many of whom shrugged off injury to claim a place on the podium. And for the Glaswegian public, who supported the Games with undiluted fervour.

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That target of 34 was reached around the competition’s halfway stage, leading some voices to suggest it had all been too easy, and certainly, the inclusion of some of the para events as well as the return of judo was always going to help the host nation boost its medal tally. But even the most cursory of comparisons with the previous most successful Games, Edinburgh in 1986, gives the lie to the notion that this was little more than a walk in the park for Scotland.

There were far fewer teams then as the result of the African nations’ boycott – 27 as opposed to the 71 who competed here. As a consequence, many events suffered both in terms of quality and quantity of entrants, something that was reflected in Scotland’s haul of 18 bronze medals. The home team won a dozen silvers that year, and only three golds.

The more relevant recent comparison is with Melbourne eight years ago, when the Scottish team came home with 29 medals. Those Games gave the team their other prime target for Glasgow, for the haul of 11 golds was the most ever won at a single Games. That target, too, was bettered long before the end.

Of course there were disappointments along the way. For weightlifter Peter Kirkbride, for example, a silver medallist in Delhi who got nothing this time. For athlete Laura Muir, a genuine medal contender who faced a possible schedule of five races in five days, but passed up on the 800 metres after finishing a distant 11th in the 1,500m final. And for Games poster boy Michael Jamieson, who “only” got a silver medal in his signature event, the 200m breaststroke.

But there were unexpected gains too. Ross Murdoch, who claimed gold in Jamieson’s race, and Dan Wallace, another swimmer whose exuberance captivated the crowds at Tollcross, are just two athletes who were little known a couple of weeks ago, even in their own country.

And there were the medals gained through sheer defiance. For instance, wrestler Alex Gladkov went into competition with an injured knee, and you can be sure it was not made any healthier by a series of bruising bouts. Even so, he held on to win bronze.

For Michael Cavanagh, chairman of Commonwealth Games Scotland and himself a former wrestler, Gladkov’s medal was particularly pleasing – yet even so, only one of a large number of highlights. Referring to the best-known home gold medal from 1986, Cavanagh had said before these Games that he was looking forward to discovering some new “Liz Lynch moments”. He found them in abundance.

“There have been so many Liz Lynch moments to choose from and that’s a reflection on the success of these Games,” Cavanagh said yesterday. “I saw quite a lot of those moments. There were a few.

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“I was at the semi-final [against England] when Alex Marshall played his two final bowls. I was sitting with David Gourlay, their coach, and I asked what he would do. He said ‘Most people would just take it to an extra end but watch this – Tattie will just go for it.’ He certainly did, and I have to say that – and his famous celebration – will live for me for a long time.

“It’s probably not a Liz Lynch moment but [another highlight was] seeing wrestling win two medals – our first medals since 1994. Particularly the second one when Alex Gladkov won with his knee in a really bad way. That was real warrior stuff right there. It was indicative of the warrior mentality throughout the team.

“I think every sport has delivered. Our athletes reached a standard to get here, and there were a number of personal bests and season’s bests, and they are just as important indicators. Medals are headlines, but there were some great performances across the board.

“We said we wanted a minimum of 34. We had a really good look at it and we decided not to set an upper limit. There were so many of our team in the medal zone – but they were in the medal zone for the first time and that made it difficult to predict.

“We were really confident we would get more than the 34 medals we were targeting, but if I’m honest I didn’t really think we would be this successful. It’s been excellent. We knew we had a great team and we always thought they could have an extraordinary Games – and they have certainly delivered an extraordinary result for Scotland.”

The question now, of course, is how to build on this success. Hampden, where Usain Bolt brought down the curtain on the athletics programme with relay gold on Saturday night, will revert to being a football venue, and inevitably, a lot of the Scottish population will also return to their first sporting love now the Games are gone.

But there will be at least one physical memento – the track in the national stadium, as well as the warm-up track at Lesser Hampden, will be taken up and transported to Grangemouth and at Crownpoint in the East End of Glasgow. Cavanagh would not confirm the venues, but did say that Falkirk and Glasgow district councils had applied for use of the tracks.

“People don’t know this, but the material at Hampden and Lesser Hampden will be lifted and re-laid,” he said. “There are two tracks in Scotland that are going to benefit from that. It’s going to be announced really soon.

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“The track that Usain Bolt was running on last night will be going somewhere. Two tracks in Scotland will get that material, and that’s a fantastic legacy. Lots of people have said why can’t we keep Hampden the way it is because it’s magnificent. But it was always a temporary facility. The question is could we really justify a 40,000-seater athletics stadium? The fact is, Hampden want their stadium back.”

Still, while Hampden returns to its original use, the success of Glasgow 2014 is sure to encourage the city to bid for at least a share in more multinational sporting events, among them football’s European Championship in six years’ time.

“I think Glasgow must be very well placed to win major sporting events after the success of these games,” Cavanagh added. “There’s already a number of events planned for Glasgow. There’s the World Gymnastics championships next year and I think there’s seven events of a European standard coming to Glasgow.

“But a Euro 2020 would be fantastic for the city. Glasgow as a city and Scotland as a country have done no harm at all in showing what we can do when handed major sporting events. It’s so complex staging a games because there’s so many small aspects to running them, but it’s really hard to pick out anything we could have done better.”