Edinburgh table tennis star Craig Howieson is in buoyant mood in the build-up to this summer’s Commonwealth Games after finally getting the better of his long-time nemesis.
The 23-year-old has spent the best part of a decade trying to beat Scottish No.1 and close friend Gavin Rumgay, who is six years his senior.
He has, therefore, been on cloud nine this week after finally getting the monkey off his back on Sunday when he saw off his Scotland team-mate to win the West of Scotland Table Tennis Grand Prix at Scotstoun Sports Campus.
Seeded No.2 for the event, Howieson achieved his long-awaited victory in dramatic fashion. With the match poised at two sets apiece after Rumgay clawed his way back from two sets down, Howieson had to fight back himself from 5-1 behind in the decider before winning it 11-8.
“It was brilliant,” he said. “I’ve played Gavin so many times before but it’s the first time I’ve beaten him and to do it in the manner that I ended up doing it in made it even more satisfying. I came quite close to beating him when I was 14 and we’ve had quite a few close matches since then but I’d never quite managed it.
“It is a big mental hurdle to overcome and I was pretty relieved when it happened. On top of that, it was also the first grand prix ever to have a live streaming so there were loads of tweets and things like that from people saying they were watching it from all over the world – it was a nice one to win.
“I’ve been in the Scotland senior team since I was 14 so we’ve spent the last ten years travelling all over the world together. I share a room with Gavin whenever we go and we get on really well.”
A tough training schedule sees Howieson structure his commitments around his full-time employment as a PE teacher at Broughton High School.
Howieson said: “It’s not easy so I’ve got to be really organised. You’ve got to be really motivated to do it but there on Sunday, after I played the final, it was all worth it.
“I’ve got to remember that my goal is to make Glasgow [the Commonwealth Games] in the summer and compete well and if I do that, all the hard work will be worth it.
“The results I’ve had and during the qualifying period have been pretty good and I think they make the criteria that has been set.
“We need to wait until the final decision is made from Sportscotland, though, so hopefully it’s a positive one.”
Acknowledging his place in Team Scotland is “likely” for this year’s Games, Howieson prefers to keep his Glasgow aspirations under control until he has received official confirmation from the national governing body, with an announcement expected some time in May.
The former James Gillespie’s pupil, who made it to the final 32 as a 19-year-old at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi four years ago, is focused on more immediate competitions, which will see him travel across continents in the coming months, locking horns with some of the world’s most formidable opposition.
He has the Scottish National Championships to look forward to at the start of March before two pro tour events in Germany and Spain in April.
Then there is the World Championships in Tokyo at the beginning of May.
“There are some really big tournaments coming up before Glasgow so I need to keep my focus,” he said.
“The experience four years ago in Delhi was great and one that is going to help me.
“Since then, the biggest change in my game has been my mentality.
“I’ve been working with a sports psychologist since last summer and that has really helped.
“When it comes down to the nitty gritty in a match, I feel I am much more composed.”