Scotland’s sports fans might have focused on the lawn tennis progress of Andy Murray at SW19 but it is the recent exploits of a young table tennis player from EH10 that have earned him Athlete of the Month from Clydesdale Bank, sponsors of the Scottish team bound for the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India (11-18 October 2008), together with Commonwealth Games Scotland (CGS) and the team’s nine participating governing bodies of sport.
By coincidence, Edinburgh 18 year old Craig Howieson was once a tennis player, sufficiently skilled to represent East of Scotland at under 13 level. And as a seven handicap golfer he had plenty of sports to pick from. But it was table tennis he chose as his forte.
“I started table tennis when I was seven when my Dad, who had played at schools level built a table in my attic,” said Craig, speaking as fast and fluidly as the rapid fire discharges from his high tech bat.
“He did some research and found out one of the best clubs in Scotland was situated just five minutes away from the house, North Merchiston Boys Club. He took me along there one Saturday morning and it clicked straight away.”
The Club’s coach, Tom Hook, taught Craig from the very start until a year ago when Craig took up a place at Bristol’s Filton Table Tennis Academy. There, guided by former Scottish coach Kevin Satchell, Craig, who describes himself as a “two winged topspin attacker,” has trained full time.
“There’s a huge amount of work involved and the academy players in China train up to eight hours a day so for us Europeans to compete with them we need to be doing the same,” said Craig, who has been in Scotland’s senior team since aged 14 and is a member of the British Table Tennis Federation (BTTF) Talent ID squad, selected for preparation for London 2012.
“I spend six hours on the table each day doing different drills and exercises; some match specific work, some on my footwork, then an hour in the gym with a specialised strength & conditioning trainer.”
With this level of devotion it’s no surprise that Craig has just had his best season. Highlights include a bronze medal at the UK School Games and a gold medal at under 18s in the British Schools International – both in individual events. In the World Team Championships in China, Craig won six of his 10 matches, helping Scotland gain promotion to Division 2. His hyper consistency helped Drumchapel Table Tennis Club finish second in the British Premier League, qualifying them for the European Club Cup.
“It’s been very successful so far and I beat England’s Paul Drinkhall (World junior No.4, European’s junior top player and British senior No.1,” says Craig. “So I know I’m not that far away from these guys. Now I need to keep improving, get quicker, stronger, faster and become more consistent.”
Craig still has the European Youth Championships and the European Senior Championships to come this summer but has already reached the qualifying criteria set for the Scottish team heading for the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune. In August, when Commonwealth Games Scotland considers all nominations against the sport’s selection policy, he will know if he is in the team. If successful it will be a major indicator that he has the wherewithal to eventually be selected for his ultimate goal of competing in a major Games.
“It’s massive to represent your country at a multi sport event like the Youth Commonwealths,” he says. “It’s important to do well in the run up to progress to a senior Games and hopefully I’ll win a medal in Pune then carry that on possibly to Delhi 2010. To get to London 2012 would be fantastic but the icing on the cake for me would be to get to Glasgow 2014 and win a medal there.”
The Pune bound Scottish team – to be announced on 21 August at University of Stirling – will comprise over 40 athletes from nine sports (athletics, badminton, boxing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling) together with 16 support staff. Like Craig, these athletes are looking to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014.
As part of its programme of support to Scotland’s Commonwealth Youth Games Team 2008, Clydesdale Bank is running the Athlete of the Month competition between April and August.
Athletes that have demonstrated good performances in the build up to Pune will be nominated for the Athlete of the Month award by the Scottish team’s Sport Team Managers. A CGS judging panel will select a winner, who receives a £300 award from Clydesdale Bank, to help with the costs of training. Each winner’s club will also receive £100.
“It’s fantastic that Clydesdale Bank have put the funding up,” said Craig. “It gives athletes an extra incentive to train hard and get more opportunities for doing so. I think it’s a good scheme to run and I’m delighted I’ve been given it for this month.”
Congratulating Craig Howieson, Steve Reid, Retail Director of Clydesdale Bank said, “Clydesdale Bank are proud to be supporting the Scottish Team at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune in October this year.
“Craig is an excellent example of the many young people striving for team selection over the summer months and I would like to congratulate him on his many achievements throughout the last year. He is a worthy winner of this month’s Clydesdale Bank Athlete of the Month award.”
Following the Games, the judging panel will consider performances at Pune to select a Clydesdale Bank Athlete of the Games and two runners-up. A further award of £500 and £250 respectively will be awarded with £100 going to the winner’s club.