As a three time Commonwealth Games medallist, shooter Neil Stirton heads to his fourth Games in Gold Coast as one of the most experienced athletes on Team Scotland. As part of our Sport Focus on Shooting, we caught up with him on what it means to be part of the team, his experience of competing in Australia and what advice he would give to athletes joining Team Scotland for the first time:
I’m fortunate enough to represent GB at many international events, but I always find that the Commonwealth Games is that little bit different and extra special. It’s called the friendly Games, and it certainly lives up to its name when you’re there. I really enjoy the build-up and the approach I take to it is like most other competitions, in that I’m training hard but I’m also looking forward to being part of Team Scotland again.
Being part of the wider Team Scotland is an honour that only a handful of athletes get to experience, and the sense of being part of your country’s ‘sporting family’ at such a Games is truly unique and certainly helps motivate me when submersed in the heart of competition. When you see the Team’s first medals coming in, you can’t help but get psyched up for your own competition.
In other Games, shooting hadn’t always been in the main village, so I was delighted that when it came to my first Games in Melbourne we were. Just being in beside your fellow Scottish athletes and speaking to everyone around the village; and learning about their experiences is so valuable and I’d encourage everyone to integrate as much as possible.
You start to see the different strategies and approach that athletes from other sports take, which is really interesting. I learned a lot from that; not just from my shooting colleagues but also from other sports. Hopefully I can relay some of that to the newer members of the team.
Having been out at the test event last year and getting a sneak preview of the Australian set-up and how they’re preparing the facilities, it puts you in a great frame of mind for the Games.
There’s a challenge with the Games being in Australia as it’s landed at the start of the season, so we don’t really have any competitions outdoors before then. I’m sure that’s true for many other sports, but it does mean you need to prepare a little differently than for the Games in say Glasgow or Delhi which were later in the year.
Melbourne was my first Games, and the feeling of the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as I walked into the MCG to the roar of over 80,000 people is something I’ll never forget. Even as the years go on and having been to subsequent Games that still stands out as one of the highlights of my sporting career.
The Aussies truly know how to run an event. They are 100% behind sport so going back there some 12 years later I have high expectations of the Games they’re going to deliver.
Both within our sport and within Team Scotland; because we’re such a close-knit unit, I felt really supported coming into that environment. You absolutely learn from the experienced team members, and you’re nervous and excited all at the same time coming into your first Games.
We’ve just been out a training camp in South Africa and everything is really ramping up. We went there to get some warm-weather training with minimal time zone changes and I came back home having done some solid technical training, and brought a lot of positives back with me.
Coming back to Scotland this past couple of weeks I have started seeing some of the benefits of the South Africa trip shine through. There are still a few things that are a work in progress, as always, but everything is heading in the right direction.
I think the key thing is to treat it like any other competition; you need to focus on what to do on the day. It is vital that you enjoy it though and soak up the atmosphere which will hopefully help you smash your goals on the day. The athletes village can be an overwhelming place with a huge variety of activities to pass the time. Just remember to do things little and varied, especially if you’re trying something new, as now is not the time to be venturing too far into uncharted territories. Those are the things I really picked up on when I first started and would say to anyone coming into the team.
I’d really hit home the fact that they’re there, they’ve done the hard work to qualify and while performing in competition will always come first, you need to make sure you’re enjoying that atmosphere, being part of Team Scotland and the experience that the Games provides.