OUTSIDE, fluttering in the strengthening breeze, the blue flag reads “Edinburgh Welcomes the Games”; inside, as he stands on the cool white tiles the faintest flicker of nerves washes over Edinburgh’s 17-year-old diving hopeful James Heatly waiting to lead out the first competitors of the day – the day the Glasgow Games came east to the Royal Commonwealth Pool.
Not that you’d know it was Edinburgh if you were watching the TV coverage – the city’s main swimming pool is decked out in the logos and colours of Glasgow 2014.
But for those in the know – those who learned to swim at the Commie, who sewed their 100m badge to their costume or trunks, who were full of enough bravado to climb the stairs to the 10m diving board and maybe even leap off – there can be no doubting where this small slice of sporting excellence is taking place.
The orange spectator seats certainly give it away – they were installed for the 1970 Commonwealth Games when Edinburgh first played host to the international sporting family, refurbished of course for the city’s second time in the spotlight in 1986, and yet again for this, the XX Games.
There’s history in this swimming pool. And yesterday history came to visit again when Heatly, a George Watson’s pupil, led the 1m board divers out to a rousing reception from the home crowd at the pool where he trains.
For there, among the flag-wavers, was his Commonwealth gold medal-winning grandad, Sir Peter Heatly, who at 90 and in a wheelchair was there to cheer him on. The spectators arrived slowly for the 10am dive-off, filing through the security gates installed at the foot of the Commie’s steps, filling the famous orange seats – though there were many left empty – but they quickly found their voices when the competition began.
No doubt many had applied for tickets in the hope of seeing diving star Tom Daley as well as the chance to support their own country’s competitor. Daley didn’t let them down. He might not have been competing – he’ll take to the boards on Friday and Saturday – but he was there to give his perma-tanned backing to the English divers.
Heatly, in contrast to Daley, is near-transparent, his shoulders covered in a scattering of ginger freckles, the same colour as his hair. He performs the same ritual as his other 13 competitors in the preliminary round, taking a quick dip in the pool to acclimatise himself to the water, drying his face with a towel as small as his trunks, before walking to the end of the board which bounces gently under his weight.
The loud, pumping music is silenced. You could hear a pin drop. One . . . two jumps – and he’s in the air, tumbling over, arcing and twisting until he hits the water: the crowd erupts. To the uninitiated he executes it perfectly, perhaps with a little too much splash.
But as the competition progresses and other, more experienced divers, England’s Chris Mears and Jack Laugher, Malaysia’s Tze Liang, Jamaica’s Yona Knight-Wisdom, Australia’s Grant Nel follow, it becomes clear that Heatly has more to do, more to learn, more difficulty to add to his dives.
“But I’m here for the experience, not to win a medal,” he says later after coming tenth, with a personal best score and knowing he’ll be diving again in the evening final.
“I’m over the moon at coming tenth. I never thought I’d make the final. It’s better than I hoped and it’s giving me great experience of this type of senior event.”
He laughs when asked if his grandad gives him tips. “It’s moved on a bit since his time, but he does help me with things like handling the pressure.
“I was really nervous walking in at first but as soon as I stepped on the board and heard the crowd it calmed me down.”
Fast forward five hours – and the final of the women’s synchronised 10m dive, won by Canada with medals presented by Prince Imran of Malaysia, who became famous for being unable to open the Queen’s Baton a the opening ceremony – Heatly is back in the blue and white tracksuit. This time the crowd is bigger – there are definitely fewer empty seats – and noisier. He is third on the list of 12 divers to jump in the final.
Six jumps later and he’s smashed his personal best again, scoring a total of 345.60 points and placing ninth. The gold goes to Laugher – 104 points ahead of Heatly – the silver to Aussie Matthew Mitcham and the bronze to Nel.
But the crowd doesn’t care, they cheer him to the rafters as he waves to them after his final dive.
Spectator Sally Hall, from Davidson’s Mains, who’s there with her husband and children aged eight and five, says: “It’s fantastic having this event in Edinburgh, it makes it much more accessible.
“There’s a real buzz in here and the pool looks amazing. The diving itself has been excellent, it’s amazing what they can do and James Heatly did so well.”
He thinks so too. Grinning from ear to ear, the teenager says: “It was amazing. One PB [personal best] was great but to smash it by 30 points again, I can’t quite believe it.
“This has been the best atmosphere I’ve dived in, it gave me an extra 20 per cent. I still can’t quite believe it’s real that I’m here.”
His parents, Debs and Robert, know it’s all too real. The family, including grandad Sir Peter, gather together in the pool concourse, their beaming smiles reflected in the faces of those watching them. “You did us proud,” says one walking past.
“He did extremely well,” says Robert. “Getting into the team, then getting into the final and a personal best, we couldn’t ask for more and he’s just loving every minute of it.”
The Heatlys pay tribute to his coaching staff Vicki Tomlinson and Jen Leeming from Edinburgh Leisure and others from the Institute of Sport.
Debs adds: “It’s all so worth it. I basically live here at the pool and spend six days a week driving him here or to Heriot-Watt University, but then you have a day like this and you know that you’ve done your job. I’d encourage any parent whose child wants to do sport to make that sacrifice.
“It’s been an amazing day and it’s been brilliant that it’s been in Edinburgh. And there’s more to come tomorrow.”
Yes today, after a night resting at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel, James goes again in the 3m dive, and his grandad will be back to watch.
“He was excellent, excellent,” he says. “I’ll be here giving him all my support.”
And no doubt the crowds will too, be they from England, Jamaica, New Zealand, Malaysia or Scotland.
Make no mistake, the Games are back in town.
SHARP MAKES THE CUT FOR 800 METRES FINAL
LYnsey Sharp will be racing for gold in front of a home crowd when she runs out on to the Hampden athletics track tomorrow.
The Edinburgh runner looked in impressive shape as she won her heat to book a place in the final of the 800 metres.
It came on another good day for Team Scotland, with gymnast Dan Keatings claiming his second silver of the Games as he finished runner-up to England’s Max Whitlock in the all-around contest at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow.
The Corby-based Scot – eligible to represent Scotland thanks to his Edinburgh-born father – said: “It feels amazing to have won another medal, especially after how much I’ve been plagued with injury.
“I haven’t done a major all-around international in over two years now and it’s great to come back here and get a medal in front of my home crowd. It was very close to quitting. I’m glad I didn’t.”
And, at the SECC, 36-year-old wrestler Viorel Etko defeated Malta’s Adam Vella to win the bronze medal in the 61kg.
Scotland’s all-time record tally of medals now stands at 39.
Kylie to top bill at closing ceremony
Pop superstar Kylie Minogue will top the bill at the closing ceremony of Glasgow 2014, it has been announced.
Hampden Park will be transformed from a sports arena to a festival of celebration and song, with 2000 volunteer performers lining up alongside Kylie and Scottish favourites Deacon Blue and Dougie Maclean.