Scotland squash stars courting Commie medals

The initial team Scotland squad competing in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games was announced yesterday
The initial team Scotland squad competing in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games was announced yesterday
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Scotland’s medal-hunting squash doubles players had it tough preparing for Commonwealth Games in previous years.

Training had sometimes to be conducted in Shetland where Scotland’s only full-size doubles court was installed – or else a regular court was adapted by placing the tin on the side wall so as to create extra width.

Now, though, with a dedicated facility coming on stream at Scotstoun, Glasgow, the team, four of whom have just been named in the first tranche of Scottish athletes to qualify, are entitled to entertain hopes of overdue success in next year’s multi-sports jamboree.

As Frania Gillen-Buchart, pictured, and part of the quartet, said: “Scotland is actually highly rated in squash doubles but it hasn’t been easy to find facilities. There is a doubles court at Edinburgh Sports Club but that was created long before the size changed.

“So, we have either had to go to Shetland, Nottingham or Sheffield for practice or adapt.”

At least travelling was a way of squash life for Edinburgh-based Frania, who will partner Alan Clyne in mixed, and Philadelphia-based Alex Clark in women’s doubles.

“Up until last year I was turning out in the Finnish and Italian leagues as well as the Scottish National League,” she revealed. “The Italian connection was through Chris Small (ex-Dalgety Bay), a Scottish pro who plays and coaches out there and whose club were looking for a woman player to take part at league level.

“Finland was through an invitation to fly out on the Friday night and play twice on Saturday’s and once on a Sunday before flying home.

“It was exhausting but a good way to see the world.

“However, by being given an opportunity along with Alan, Alex and Harry Leitch to start preparing now, the emphasis will be purely on building up to Glasgow 2014 mostly at home.”

Of the quartet only Alan Clyne, recent winner of the New Zealand Classic title, has been chosen so far to play singles and Gillen-Buchart admits such globe trotting – this world No. 33 player is currently in San Francisco at a tournament – is a challenge to be overcome in terms of developing the on-court pairing. But she insisted that previously the partnership has found a synergy that is especially welcome in squash doubles. “An awareness of where you put the ball is needed otherwise you can end up with a few bruises with four players in a confined court space,” said Gillen-Buchart, 31, who was raised in South Africa where her mum was a squash coach before moving to Scotland, aged 14.

Sport is very much a way of life, too, for her having found employment as communications manager at Judo Scotland. “I guess my idea of getting away from sport is to go to the gym!

“Seriously, working for Judo Scotland has great benefits not least in terms of awareness of my own ambitions to do well at the Commonwealth Games while helping promote another sport.”

This will be Gillen-Buchart’s third Games and the same goes for 28-year-old Harry Leitch, a qualified doctor based in Cambridge who learned the game at Edinburgh’s Waverley club in Suffolk Road. Leitch, whose mum is a GP in Craigmillar, has a special incentive having finished in fourth place in men’s doubles alongside Alan Clyne at the last Commonwealth Games.

“When you are just outside the medals you really feel it and want to do even better,” said Leitch. “Being told well in advance of selection means I can let potential employers know as I am due to finish my medical training around the time of the Games. Also, I can sort myself out physically for Glasgow 2014 when, possibly for the first time, all my close family will be able to see me representing Scotland.”

Leitch, first capped in 2003, has now made more than 60 international appearances including reaching the quarter-finals at the Melbourne Games (2006) with John White who, two years earlier, had been ranked world No 1.

Gillen-Buchart has also been capped 60 times while doubles partner Alex Clark, 27, still lists her club as Heriot-Watt University while playing and coaching in the United States.

The US is where Alan Clyne is playing having earlier this month competed in New Zealand and Malaysia as well as fitting in an exhibition match in Orkney but the Edinburgh-based star, originally from Inverness, is expected back in plenty of time to spearhead what is shaping up as determined Scottish medal bid.