Ambitious as ever, Willie Wood prepares for eighth Games

September 23, 2010

WILLIE Wood’s first Commonwealth Games were in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1974. In the build-up, there was only limited media work, no squad gatherings, no holding camps or training programmes, just a flight ticket with instructions to collect your kit at the airport. When they touched down on the other side of the world, the Scotland team discovered that half of their suitcases had burst open.

When Wood arrives in Delhi for next month’s Games, as Team Scotland’s most capped athlete and at 72-year-old the oldest member of the 2010 team the East Lothian player is sure things will be very different. “It’s more professional now,” he says. “In those days, we didn’t have physios and coaches like we have now. I learned my game from watching other people. With my father being a good player, I just watched him. Nobody came to coach me when I was young.”

Wood, who grew up in Gifford, first tried bowls in 1951. Fifteen years later, he was representing Scotland, and eight years after that, winning a bronze medal in Christchurch.

At the time, he wondered if it would be his only experience of the Commonwealth Games, but three more medals – two gold and one silver – provided the answer. “If you had said in 1974 that I would still be playing in the Commonwealth Games in 2010, I would have said, not in your wildest dreams. I couldn’t have imagined it.”

But at the Team Scotland preparation camp earlier this month Willie was looking in fine fettle. Along with David Peacock and Wayne Hogg they are the world triples champions. He might be by far the oldest athlete in the Scottish ranks, but he is deadly serious about winning, even subjecting himself to the kind of physical preparation that was unheard of in years gone by, with lawn bowls now supported by the sportscotland institute of sport. “I am among the fittest of the lot. You get warm-ups, cool-downs, exercises twice a week. Some of them go to the gym, but I don’t. I do a lot of walking. I do a lot of grass cutting for people which means that you’re walking miles and miles every day.”

As far as Wood is concerned, you are only as old as the people around you. One of his fellow bowlers on the Scotland team is 24-year-old Michelle Cooper, while India are ready to thrust 15-year-old Tania Choudhury on to the rink in Delhi.

Don’t even think about telling the sprightly septuagenarian to go and play with someone his own age. “I hardly ever play with the old people,” he says. My father was the same. He never played in the seniors all his life.”

Wood has never retired from the sport he loves, although he has come close a few times.

In 1998, he told the Queen that Kuala Lumpur would be his last Commonwealth Games. And here he is again going for gold.

A keen golfer, he was inspired by Tom Watson’s challenge for the Open Championship last summer, but the American legend was 59 at the time.

Wood will be 76 when the Games come to Glasgow in 2014. Surely a trip to Delhi, and a possible a fifth medal, would be a suitable juncture at which to bow out. “Well, never say never but… probably, yeah.”

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