In their blue team-issue polo shirts they could have been mistaken for Delhi 2010 athletes – especially as they sat down for press and TV interviews in Team Scotland’s Delhi base, Scotland House.
But these ten young Scots, although they do have the Commonwealth Games firmly in their minds, are thinking not of the next two weeks, but the next four years, and Glasgow in 2014.
The Achieve 2014 initiative, headed by Scotland’s 2002 judo gold medallist Graeme Randall, will see thirty young athletes, as well as sixteen coaches and ten athlete mentors, attend the Games in Delhi.
The first group of ten, including swimmers, hockey, squash, lawn bowls and table tennis players, are now in Delhi, and pursuing a packed schedule, including visits to the athletes’ village, the above-mentioned press conference, the Opening Ceremony, and from Monday, when the Games get underway, the competition venues for their own and other sports.
“They’re here to understand more about the processes of a multi-sport Games,” explained Randall, “and we hope that experience will help them in 2014 by allowing them to prepare and focus on winning medals.”
This was echoed by Michael Cavanagh, Chairman of Commonwealth Games Scotland. “Someone’s first time at a multi-sport Games can be a daunting experience,” said Cavanagh. “Some athletes rise to the big, multi-sport occasion, while others are overwhemed by it; it can be difficult for someone to go straight into that environment and perform to the best of their ability.
“The idea behind this programme is to give a number of athletes and coaches a chance to experience the Games,” continued Cavanagh, “so the next time they’re here, in 2014, nothing should be new, nothing should be daunting, and they can focus on what they’re really there for – which is to win medals.”
Another factor in 2014 will be the home crowd, and, with this in mind, Randall said that the young athletes have been told to pay special attention in Delhi to the Indian competitors. “When these guys go out and compete in Glasgow it’ll be the most fantastic experience they’ve ever had,” said Randall. “But I think they can learn from watching how the Indian competitors respond to the crowds here, and how they deal with that pressure.”
Unsurprisingly, the first wave of Achieve 2014 athletes appear to be relishing the Delhi experience. On their first day they happened to be in the Athletes’ Village as the Queen’s baton arrived, giving them, said Randall, “their first opportunity to witness a media frenzy – and they did very well. I think they got themselves in front of every camera that was there.”
For Emma Hunter, a 17-year old swimmer, it is the Athletes’ Village that has so far left the biggest impression. “It was really nice, with training facilities and things for the athletes to do. Everyone looked relaxed and happy, and no one looked bored. Seeing it definitely makes me even more determined to compete in 2014.”
As well as seeing their own sports, visits to other sporting venues are also on the agenda. “I’m really looking forward to the swimming finals,” says Callum Main, a 17-year old table tennis player. “I think I can learn a lot, just seeing how they prepare, how they handle their nerves. There’s definitely a lot you can take from other sports into your own sport.”
Michael Bremner, an 18-year old hockey player, believes that, “without this experience I think I’d be at a disadvantage in Glasgow.” As he explains: “The experience we’re having is very similar to the experience you’ll have as an athlete – we’re as close as we could be to the Games without actually competing.”
Naturally Bremner is most looking forward to attending the hockey, in particular the Scottish women’s Monday evening match against the home nation, India. “Hockey and cricket are the national sports here, so it’ll be packed out,” says Bremner. “We probably won’t be heard in the crowd, but we’ll do our best to support them.”
Recalling his own first experience of a multi-sport Games, at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Randall says: “I was only 20, and it was quite overwhelming. The village was phenomenal, and you had lots of big names. Seeing Muhammad Ali in the international zone – wow! But that’s exactly the kind of thing you can get distracted by, whereas those athletes with experience of the village tend not to be.
“I also competed in the Manchester Commonwealth Games,” Randall continues, “and a few of the kids have asked what it was like. It was as close to a home Games as I got, and the reception we got was incredible. We were really well supported and cheered on – as long as we weren’t competing against an Englishman.
“The multi-sport environment is one thing to be prepared for, and the home Games is another,” adds Randall. “And another thing we’re trying to impress on these young athletes is the importance of being part of a team, and supporting each other.
“Even if you don’t win a medal, you can come home from the Commonwealth Games a success because you’re part of a successful team. I think Achieve 2014 will also help in that team-building process, and in fostering that special Team Scotland spirit.”