ONE major contributory factor behind the success of London 2012 was the Olympic volunteer force.

Their friendly, helpful demeanour was the catalyst for a seismic culture shift in capital attitudes. Perhaps even worthy of provoking the front-page headline: "Passengers chat to strangers on London Underground – sensation."

Volunteers' friendly engagement and humour helped create this alien, but welcome, climate, and Glasgow now has the chance to go miles better. They have a head start on London, given the Weegie default setting of friendliness. The city is about to launch "the biggest peace-time deployment of volunteers for a common cause which Scotland has ever seen". The search for some 15,000 volunteers for the 2014 Commonwealth Games starts on Monday.

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These Games, and being a volunteer at them, will change lives. You think this is mere rhetoric? Cynical promotional spin? Well, consider the impact in 1970. A former schoolboy long jumper reckoned the Edinbugh Commonwealth Games would let him observe star athletes close up. "A guy at my club, Edinburgh Southern Harriers, was manager of the athletics technical team," recalled one former volunteer yesterday. "He asked if I'd help. I agreed, and it changed my life."

That man will be 60 this year: Allan Wells. Set against recent GB athletics riches, his feats may seem prosaic, yet it's hard to overstate the enormity of what Wells achieved. When crowned Olympic 100 metres champion in 1980, he was Britain's first men's track gold medallist on the flat in 48 years, and the first Scottish one since Eric Liddell in 1924. He also won Olympic 200m silver in Moscow, was multiple Commonwealth champion and UK record-holder and still holds Scottish 100 and 200m national records (10.11, 20.11) from 1980.

Yet in 1970 only serious aficionados would have known his name. He'd won the Scottish Under-15 long jump title, and the junior triple jump crown just before the 1970 Games. "I still considered myself a jumper," he said. Only after winning the Scottish senior indoor long jump in 1974 did he begin to focus on sprinting.

"Volunteering in 1970 opened doors. I was just giving technical help – putting out hurdles, that sort of thing. I'd like to have raked the sand pit, but never did. That's an urban myth. But it did give me the chance to see the Games first hand. Running was in my veins, and seeing it at close quarters, with a free pass, was incredible. I was very privileged. I'd never have had the money to get in. I was a second-year engineering apprentice at Brown Brothers, straight from school."

Wells saw Garscube's Scottish champion, Les Piggot, reach the Edinburgh 100m final as Don Quarrie won the first of back-to-back Commonwealth 100/200m doubles. Eight years later, at the Edmonton Commonwealth Games, Wells ended the Jamaican legend's reign. Quarrie won the 100, but Wells claimed the 200m. When he held off reigning Olympic champion Hasely Crawford to take 100m silver behind Quarrie, it was Scotland's first Commonwealth sprint medal, male or female, since 1934, and he was the first Scot since then to reach both sprint finals.

"Back in 1970, as a teenage volunteer, I had no clue that anything like that might be possible. Feeling the atmosphere, the tension, seeing how athletes focused was a tremendous education, and set me up for the career I had. Seeing all this was an inspiration; Stewart and McCafferty winning gold and silver in the 5000m, Lachie's 10k win, Alder winning silver in the marathon, and Stirling winning the 800m for Scotland, and the world 400m record (51.02) from Marilyn Neufville. It's all clear as day. I feel like the grandfather of volunteers – but it is 40-odd years ago.

"The person I most wanted to see was Lynn Davies, the Olympic long jump champion who won gold in Edinburgh. I watched him jump, spoke to him, and saw him run the 100m heats. It was very windy. I was standing watching him watching the scoreboard, when the wind speed came up. I think he said the f-word, he was so disappointed. But he was a man I wanted to emulate. He was friendly, but had that businesslike aura as an athlete."

The seeds of the greatest sprint talent Scotland has yet seen were planted at the 1970 Games. A Caucasian scaling Olympus from the shadow of Arthur's Seat, in cold, dreich Edinburgh, shattered the mould. This was the perceived preserve of Afro-Caribbeans who trained in warm climes.

"If we hadn't had the Games in Edinburgh, and Meadowbank stadium, I would never have been Olympic champion. None of it would have happened for me. And without that velodrome alongside, we would never have had Chris Hoy either. That's the essence of what 2014 is about. I hope the legacy is at least the same for Glasgow, and I hope to be part of it."

* Would-be volunteers have until February 28 to complete the online application form. Visit www.glasgow2014/volunteer.