The clock is ticking down to time for Scots Olympic heroes
Scott Brash: Equestrianism
If the Olympics were happening next week, Scott Brash would be a shoo-in. The problem is that there's a year to go, and the 25-year-old from Peebles has to maintain the form that has made him one of the best four showjumpers in Britain - an unaccustomed position for a Scottish rider.
Nor is this as straightforward a proposition as it might sound. Every prospective Olympian believes he or she faces a unique set of challenges, but in Brash's case he may just be right. If, between now and the moment when chef d'equipe Rob Hoekstra chooses the four riders to represent GB around a month before the Olympics begins, Brash receives a good offer for his outstanding 12-year-old gelding IntertoyZ, then his Olympic dream may be over before it begins.
"There are only eight horses in Britain which are capable of jumping the Olympic course, and I own one of them," says the Scottish No.1. "There are several Arabs with deep pockets who are looking to buy a horse before the Olympics, and as showjumping is such an expensive pursuit, if one of them offered me a decent price, I'd have to sell. It's tough, but horses are my business, they're how I make my living."
Most riders have to compete on horses owned by benefactors or sponsors, but Brash bought IntertoyZ from Belgium as a four-year-old and has since seen the horse's value climb to well over 1m. His preference is to sell half the horse to a private individual, but none has yet come forward. Despite already winning 50,000 in prize money this year, the costs of travelling to the events he must attend if he's to get into the four-rider Olympic team are several times that amount: a superleague event in Dublin will be followed by the European Championships in Madrid, then he's off to Palm Springs in Florida in the New Year before another 10-12 shows in the run-up to the Olympics.
"Competing in your home Olympics is every showjumper's dream," he says. "Only time will tell if I get to live that dream."
Susan Egelstaff: Badminton
Two into one doesn't go, so Susan Egelstaff knows that when the badminton season ends next May, either she or English No.1 Liz Cann will face the most disappointing moment of their sporting lives. With the Scottish No.1 currently ranked 32nd in the world and her rival ranked 36th, the next nine months will be spent dragging herself around the world in search of the rankings points needed to keep ahead of Cann and get the one women's badminton berth in the GB team."After the world championships in London in August, I'll be spending my life on trains, planes and automobiles on the way to over 20 events - about one every two weeks," she says. "Both Liz and I will be plugging away chasing ranking points, and I'll be keeping an eye on how she does and won't be too upset when she loses. She'll return the favour I'm sure. We get on and it's nothing personal, but only one of us will get to play at the Olympics and I'll do everything in my power to make sure it's me."
With a revised tournament schedule in Olympic year, there's no pre-season, while events in Russia, the Far East and Europe will come thick and fast as Egelstaff pursues a schedule "so knackering that there's the danger of getting really run-down, and less time for practice than I'd like". Although she will sometimes travel with her Chinese coach Yvette Yun Luo and occasionally with the whole GB squad, most of the time she will "spend five days at a tournament on my tod, not speaking to anyone". But then, as she says: "I'm there to do my job, and it's the best job in the world."
A two-time Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, the 29-year-old will hope to punch above her ranking at the Olympics. Not only would she have home support, but many of the top players come from a handful of countries: a dozen of the top 30 are Chinese for instance, but only three can compete. She's not getting ahead of herself, though: "Everything is focused on getting to the Olympics; only once you get there can you afford to start dreaming about details like medals."
Lee McConnell: Athletics
For Lee McConnell, the margin between success and failure is a matter of a few fractions of a second. Six hundredths of a second to be precise. That is the difference between her recent 400m run, which came in at 51.56 seconds, and the qualifying time for next year's Olympics, which is 51.50 seconds.
"Missing out by so little was very, very annoying," she says.
"Chasing that qualifying time is my main focus at the moment, with doing well at the British Trials in Birmingham next weekend a close second.
"In fact, if you were to ask me what my perfect week would look like, it'd be winning in Birmingham inside the Olympic qualification time - that'd do nicely."
Actually, second place would confirm her place in the GB team, but that would count for nought if she doesn't make the qualifying time.
If McConnell hasn't made that time by the World Championships in Daegu in South Korea at the end of August, she'll begin to compete with an extra burden placed upon her. The pressures in Olympic year are always particularly acute, but the Glaswegian also has to deal with the fact that her excellent early-season form was derailed by a torn quad, which means she missed a couple of key chances to get her time.
McConnell's PB is 50.82 so making the time should be a formality, especially as she has until May before the GB athletics team is selected."At the moment I'm very apprehensive," she says, "but if you want to perform at the top level you have to deal with the pressure, to carry on doing the things that work for you and not feel pressured into changing your routine.
"It's not going to be a normal year, and there's going to be enormous hype, but you have to embrace that and use it."
She continued: "I was lucky enough to compete in front of a British crowd in Manchester and it was fantastic. I loved it; it's up to me to make sure that memory is an advantage to me, not a burden."
Euan Burton: Judo
While many Scottish athletes will spend most of the next year touring the world in search of ranking points and qualification times, Euan Burton has a different challenge. With the 32-year-old Edinburgh judoka sure of filling the single 81kgs berth guaranteed because of GB's host status, his priority is to ensure that he sticks rigidly to the tried-and-tested routine that brought him a world championship bronze medal last year.
"On the one hand I have huge expectations," he says. "My aim is to be Olympic champion, and that's what I'm training for. It's not a given, but I'm capable of it and I'd be lying if I said I'm aiming simply to be on the podium because I'm not - I'm training for the gold medal. Yet, on the other hand, while that would be an extraordinary achievement, the best way to achieve it is through the ordinary: to keep doing what has worked best for me in the past.
"So on one level you know this is not an ordinary tournament, that there's going to be lots of pressure and expectations, that this is a once-in-a-lifetime event because it's taking part in our home country. But on another you have to rationalise it and keep telling yourself that this is just another judo tournament, that there won't be any guys there that I haven't fought before."
That said, Burton also knows that he's at the stage of his career where he'll have to pace himself. When he was younger he'd fight 10-15 major tournaments a year. After fighting in Hamburg this week and then the World Championships in Paris on August 23-28, he will fight just five times before the Olympics.
"I'm a 32-year-old athlete in a physically very demanding sport, and while I feel in the best shape of my life I know I need to be as clever as possible in the way that I train and fight.
"I need to trust myself. There are so many variables that I need to focus on my performances, not my results. It's most important to know that your preparation was perfect, that you wouldn't change anything. It's all about giving yourself the best chance possible."
Jen McIntosh: Shooting
Last month Jen McIntosh turned 20 years of age. Bright, bubbly and studious, in any other lifetime the Falkirk girl would probably have come straight out of Dollar Academy, taken a gap year and now be halfway through a degree course.Instead, the daughter of Scotland shooting team head coach Donald McIntosh and former double Commonwealth Games medallist Shirley McIntosh is halfway through a course of an altogether different sort.
"Of course I wanted to go to university, but I decided to put 'normal' life on hold so that I could train full-time," she says.
"Everything has been on hold since the Commonwealth Games last year; when I left school I knew that I'd never get another chance like this. So instead of sitting in lectures, a typical day involves three hours on the range and two hours in the gym."
McIntosh may be a multiple Commonwealth Games medallist after her achievements in Delhi, but, like several other Scottish athletes, her year will be dominated by the need to chase the victories needed to pip her close rival, Hampshire's Michelle Smith, to the single guaranteed place in the women's rifle-shooting.
That process will revolve around four World Cup events, including next week's European Championships in Belgrade.
There may be a second place available in the team, but McIntosh knows that to rely on that would be to court disappointment.
"They'll pick the person who they think has the better medal chance, but they're also looking ahead to 2016," she said.
"If I go it'll be my first Olympics and not many people tend to medal at their first Olympics so realistically I'm also looking at 2016. But it'll mean the world to be able to compete in London."
The Scottish shooter, though, is taking nothing for granted and is prepared to work as hard as it takes to win that spot, adding: "The next year will be spent trying to get there, and will be utter chaos, but I'm looking forward to every minute of it."