It all started on a kitchen table for Niall Cameron but please avoid references to table tennis’s popular cliché when you talk to the Elgin player.
Lean and sinewy, the 34 year old represents the opposite of the stereotypical image of a game played in school and church halls but which will have no hiding place this summer when it is thrust into the spotlight at the Glasgow Games. We will all see it for what it really is – fast, explosive, exciting.
“Most table tennis players have a bit of a chip on their shoulders about how the sport is represented – there is a view that it’s not athletic, that’s it’s simply a kitchen table sport,” says Cameron, who started the game when his grandmother bought him a table tennis set…for his kitchen table.
Cameron knows everything about being athletic. A former junior national 1500m steeplechase champion and internationalist (he was once in the same Scottish squad as Team Scotland marathon runner Susan Partridge), the north east town allowed him the opportunity to play many sports with little pressure to specialise in one.
But when his interest and abilities grew, his father built a full size table and he found a club and coach at school to support him. He balanced table tennis with a successful track athletics career before deciding the future lay in the former.
“Growing up in Elgin there wasn’t that much opportunity to concentrate on one sport and play it every night, so you did a bit of everything,” he recalls.
“But I always knew I would specialize and when I was 18 or 19 I knew I had more potential in table tennis.”
Cameron competed in the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games but not since, though it hasn’t been for a lack of effort.
Sadly the Table Tennis team missed out on qualification for the 2006 Melbourne Games, then, in 2010, he was selected as the fourth player for the three man Delhi bound team, missing out again.
Four years on he’s philosophical about what has gone but galvanised into not being excluded a third time: “It was quite disappointing not to go to Melbourne and Delhi but that’s sport; sometimes things go well and sometimes they go badly.
“As soon as I got passed over in India I knew I wanted to give it a big shot for Glasgow and I’m using that as motivation to train harder for this one and hope it doesn’t happen again.”
Like all athletes determined to win a place in Team Scotland for Glasgow, Cameron is pulling out all the stops. His situation is different from most in that his weekdays are spent on Floor 34 of Tower 42, working for a London city hedge fund as a senior risk analyst. His focus on business and preparing for the Glasgow Games leaves room for little else but if he qualifies for the team it will all have been worth it.
“In a standard day I work eight till six, cranking out the financial maths, train seven till nine, get home at 10, then it’s eat sleep and repeat,” says Cameron who prepares as intensely for the sport as he did when he was a runner and points out the rest of his squad are in equally good shape.
“All my holidays and spare time are taken up with table tennis. Admittedly it’s not always the most fun but it’s my choice; I enjoy the playing side and having completely different things to focus on complements each other.”
Team Scotland’s qualification period for table tennis ends in May when the athletes’ names will be submitted to Commonwealth Games Scotland for consideration. Winning a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Championships in India last May qualified the sport so three male players are guaranteed to be picked.
Cameron has not yet met the qualification target, “I’ve had two very close results so I’ve not been far away”, but will get a last opportunity to do so when he plays at the World Championships in Tokyo later this month.
The pressure is completely on but then it has never been off.
“Glasgow will be massive,” he says. “Of all the places I could have ever have competed having a home Games is the ideal, the one that everyone wants to compete in.
“My friends back home keep telling me they have bought tickets to the table tennis and that I’ve got to qualify, but at this point I tell them to shut up and not add any more pressure.
“I’ve actually got a talking ban but they still ask as quietly as they can “what are the chances of seeing you if they buy more tickets?”
And speaking of bans let’s banish the words kitchen table.
Photo credit: Rob Eyton-Jones