Commonwealth Games stars recall their experiences

Sarah Clark. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Sarah Clark. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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FORGET the frozen rinks, the snow-capped mountains and the cool of snowboarders which made the frozen Sochi feel balmy.

The Winter Olympics are yesterday’s news and sports fans now can’t wait for the running, jumping, throwing, cycling, swimming, hitting and lifting all set to make this summer a golden one.

There are fewer than 150 days before the Commonwealth Games begin in Glasgow, and although the action is 50 miles to the west of Edinburgh, the Capital, which has played host to the Games twice, hasn’t been shy in offering a helping hand. Some of our previous medal winners have given the Games their invaluable backing while others have been working behind the scenes to ensure a sports legacy for all.

Kate delivered medals, now it’s new venues

Kate Cullen, cycling.

Best known for: four silver medals in the 2005 national cycling championships from sprint to distance events.

CG honours: bronze medallist in the points race in Melbourne 2006.

IF legacy is the long-term goal for Commonwealth Games, then Kate Cullen is the epitome of that aspiration.

It was a visit to the velodrome in Manchester, built for the 2002 Games, as part of a design project while she was studying for an architecture degree in Glasgow which inspired her to get on her bike – and four years later, aged 28, she was a medallist.

Now she’s working as part of the team responsible for the design and management of temporary Commonwealth Games venues.

“I was always quite a sporty person but it was only when I started designing a hypothetical velodrome for my degree that a visit to Manchester changed everything – I had a go on the track built for the Commonwealth Games there and that was it really, I was hooked!

“When I moved to Edinburgh, I quickly joined the city’s cycling club and trained hard to progress through the ranks. Then at the British Championships in 2002, it became clear that I was ready to compete at Commonwealth level.”

The Melbourne Games are still vivid in her memory.

“It was an amazing experience to be out in Australia with Team Scotland and to get to compete for my country alongside inspiring athletes like Chris Hoy. I certainly learned a lot from everyone around me and the atmosphere was just incredible.

“It definitely felt like a big achievement to come back with a bronze medal. It was a proud moment.”

Kate, 36, is now looking forward to 2014 and is playing a central role in the delivery of facilities.

“We have a huge job ahead but it’s extremely exciting to be at the heart of the Games with lots already happening across the country.

“It’s especially good to see world-class venues like the velodrome already open and accessible to the public.

“I hope people make the most of these incredible new facilities and just get out there

and enjoy the many opportunities being created.”

Elinor couldn’t resist returning

Elinor Middlemiss, badminton.

Best known for: representing Scotland in five Commonwealth Games.

CG honours: bronze medallist in women’s doubles in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur and in the team event in 2002 in Manchester.

NOT content with representing her country on the court – which she did for the first time at the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games – Elinor is now the Games team operations manager for Glasgow, which makes her something of an expert on how incredible such a huge sporting event is when it’s held on home turf.

She says: “I still remember Edinburgh 1986 like it was yesterday – it was such a special Games to be part of and it definitely gave me huge inspiration as a young player to go on and better my game. The hard work finally paid off in 1998 when I went on to win bronze in Kuala Lumpar with my doubles partner, Sandra Watt.

“Badminton is a huge sport over there so we were playing to a massive audience – it was a brilliant feeling to come away with a medal and to stand on the podium for Scotland made us both very proud.”

Although Elinor officially retired soon after those Games, when Manchester 2002 came around, she couldn’t resist competing.

“Having played in Edinburgh, I knew how amazing a British crowd could be so in 2002, [so] I signed back up to be part of Team Scotland. We won a team bronze there which was just amazing and it felt the right time to bow out of badminton for good.”

The Capital’s golden boy

Allan Wells, sprinting.

Best known for: gold and silver medallist at 1980 Moscow Olympic Games in 100 and 200 metres.

CG honours: 1978 Edmonton - gold in 200m and 4x100m relay, silver in 100m; 1982 Brisbane - gold in 100m and 200m, bronze in 4x100m relay.

THE Allan Wells story has been often told, but to recap, the former Liberton High pupil from Fernieside became a champion long jumper – crowned Scottish indoor champion in 1974 – before turning to sprinting.

He won several indoor and outdoor titles, but broke into the big time at the 1978 Commonwealth Games held in Edmonton, Canada – repeating his medal haul four years later in Brisbane, though by then he had Olympic gold in the bag too. Indeed the sprinting legend is Team Scotland’s most successful competitor ever.

Now 61, he says the Commonwealth Games and its legacy has an important place in his life.

“A part of the legacy from the Commonwealth Games coming to Edinburgh in 1970 was the new track built at Meadowbank Stadium, which has had an immense impact on my life. As a member of the city’s Southern Harriers running club at the time, getting to use the new state-of-the-art facilities undoubtedly boosted my chances of success. It was an inspirational place to train with a very focused and committed group.” He adds: “As my first big Games experience, Edmonton 1978 was completely different to anything else I’d ever done but that’s what made it so unique and inspiring. The Canadians put on a fantastic show and seeing the stadium full for the first time really lifted me and pushed me on to want to do well. To then be able to go on and win three medals, particularly gold in the 200m, was amazing.”

Allan says he is now looking forward to Glasgow 2014 and what hosting a home Games might mean for a new generation of Scots.

“For me at least, the Commonwealth Games is definitely the more unique, personal and passionate of the big sporting events so it is something very special to be part of.

“And whilst the Games as an event is for the athletes, the legacy is for the people.

“I hope seeing new world-class facilities being built on their doorsteps will inspire more young people to get active and for those already involved in sport, to get to the next level. Having the Commonwealth Games come to Edinburgh all those years ago certainly did this for me and I look forward to what the Games will mean for future generations to come.”

Cyclist really made his Marco

Marco Librizzi, cycling.

Best known for: double gold medallist at the World Masters Championship in 2003.

CG honours: bronze medallist as part of the men’s team sprint at Manchester 2002, key member of coaching team in Delhi 2010.

RACING cyclist Marco Librizzi says that competing in the 2002 Games absolutely “blew his mind” – which is not surprising as he’d officially retired from the sport eight years earlier.

“The Commonwealth Games in Manchester is definitely the competition I’ll always remember most - the atmosphere, the support, being close to home – just everything was incredible. You can’t bottle something like that so to win a bronze medal there was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I can’t put into words what it was like, it was pretty emotional.”

Having being swept up in the BMX craze of the ‘80s as a kid, Marco was hooked on biking and moved on to road cycling having been inspired by watching the Tour de France on TV.

Working in an Edinburgh bike shop in his late teens, he was encouraged to join the local cycling club by the shop’s owner and quickly progressed, joining a specialist track club when he was 20.

He competed in various world-class events and won numerous titles throughout his career, including the British Championships, before his initial retirement in 1994.

“I thrived on competition but it felt right to stop as at that time there wasn’t the funding or support there is now so it was a tough career in many respects. However, five years later Chris Hoy and Craig MacLean approached me to join the sprint team for the Manchester Games. While I wasn’t sure at first, I was soon persuaded and in 2001, I started a fast-track programme to ensure I was ready for the following year.

“Winning bronze there definitely reignited my passion for cycling and I was very pleased I made the decision to go back.”

Marco, 43, is now looking forward to Glasgow 2014 and what it will mean for the country as a whole. “Glasgow is already shaping up nicely, especially where cycling is concerned. The velodrome alone will change the landscape for track cycling up here and to have that investment is going to create a fantastic legacy for the sport.

“I hope people use the buzz as a means for action and feel encouraged to get involved and grasp the many opportunities being created.”

Judo’s Sarah adopted Scotland as her home

Sarah Clark, judo.

Best known for: winning the British championship 11 times.

CG honours: silver medallist in Manchester 2002.

WHEN she was 18 Sarah Clark came to Scotland for one week as part of a judo training programme back in 1996. Not only has the professional judo player, or judoka, never left but she has since gone on to represent her adopted home on the world stage.

Now 36, she says: “The judo training here was also a big draw so when I found an excellent coach in Edinburgh, I made the decision to stay. Everything just seemed to fall into place.

“As part of the Edinburgh club, I trained with talented judoka Billy Cusack and he has been through the many highs and lows in my career with me. A definite high was when I’d been resident in Scotland for four years and was able to compete as a Scottish athlete. It was a fantastic moment to find out I could represent the country.”

In 2002, Sarah got the chance to do just that when she competed as a member of Team Scotland. “Manchester was my first experience of a multi-sport event so it was really exciting. The buzz around the whole city was just amazing and being close to home meant we had huge support for Team Scotland which was very special.

“Including the silver I won, the judo team alone brought home nine medals so it was a great time for the sport too. I hope we can do something similar in 2014 and use the home advantage to drive up our medal tally.”

Sarah now uses her own knowledge and experience to train the judo stars of tomorrow. She hopes that more Scots will be inspired to take up sport on the back of the Games.

“I really enjoy working with the up and coming judokas – judo is such a great sport for kids and I’m so pleased to see its growth in Scotland. 2014 is going to be fantastic for the country and I hope Scots make the most of the opportunities available to them.”

Susan was on target three times

Susan Jackson, rifle shooting.

Best known for: bringing home medals from three different Commonwealth Games.

CG honours: bronze in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, silver in Manchester 2002, and gold in Melbourne 2006.

SHOOTER Susan Jackson has secured a medal in each one of the Games she competed in, bringing home bronze, silver and gold for Team Scotland.

Now an athlete representative for Commonwealth Games Scotland in the lead up to Glasgow 2014, she says: “The Commonwealth really is a very special experience and across every Games I’ve competed in, I’ve felt that same pride and passion.

“Whilst Melbourne 2006 will probably always be the highlight given it was the Games where I secured gold, the others have special memories too. It really is just an exceptional and inspiring event to be part of.”

It was Susan’s dad who first introduced her to the sport at Dunfermline Rifle Club whilst Susan was still a teenager and she later joined the club at Edinburgh University.

Inspired by fellow shooters there who had come back from the 1994 Commonwealth Games with medals, Susan realised that she too wanted to be part of the action.

Her hard work paid off when she first competed in Kuala Lumpur 1998 followed by Manchester 2002 and finally securing that elusive gold medal in Melbourne 2006.

She said: “It was incredible being able to win bronze in 1998 and then silver in 2002 but I was always striving to do better and get that gold.

“It was only when I took a sabbatical from my job as an accountant the year before the 2006 Games that I was able to commit full-time to the sport.

“I really do think this made the difference – I immersed myself in shooting and drove on to gold. It was definitely the extra push I needed and when it paid off, it was just phenomenal.”

Susan, 40, hopes that Scots make the most of the Games to ensure their lasting legacy is felt across the nation.

“It’s fantastic to be part of the Games coming to Scotland and to see the other side of how such a big event is put together.

“The Commonwealth has been at the centre of my life for so long that I can’t wait for people across the country to experience the excitement first-hand. There is already a structural legacy in place with all the new facilities being built and I hope the Games kick-start a physical activity legacy in us as a nation too. After all, it is seeing someone else achieve a Common-wealth gold that spurred me to go on and win one of my own.”