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Meet the Scot who's heading for his 17th Games

Sir Peter Heatly went to his first Commonwealth Games 64 years ago; this summer he will attend his 17th.

Former diver Sir Peter Heatly with his medals and a jumper from the 1954 Games, and, below, in action in his prime.Picture: Mark Mainz

Heatly is one of Scotland's most decorated athletes, winning three consecutive Commonwealth diving gold medals - he is the only Scot to have achieved the feat - as well as a silver and a bronze, and has occupied almost every role in the Commonwealth Games spectrum since he retired from competition in 1958.

Heatly, now 89, was selected for his inaugural Commonwealth Games in 1950 in Auckland, having competed in the first post-war Olympic Games in London two years earlier. He won gold for Scotland in the 10-metre highboard as well as silver in the 3m springboard, no mean feat considering the arduous journey that had to be completed merely to get to New Zealand.

"The journey to Auckland was a tremendous experience," said Heatly. "It took us five weeks on the boat to get there and the Scottish, English, Welsh and Nigerian teams were all on board. For the last three weeks we didn't see any land or another ship. The journey was really good fun, although I'm not going to tell you what we got up to."

Training facilities on the SS Tamaroa were limited, to say the least. The athletes would run around the deck in an attempt to stay fit, with Heatly's only diving practice coming when the boat docked halfway through the trip in Panama, allowing the Scot one diving session at an American military base before they set off again.

Heatly still recalls standing atop the podium after his victory in Auckland. "It was a lovely experience. The national anthem back then was Scots Wha Hae, though - you can't really sing along to that one, unfortunately."

Four years later, in Vancouver, Canada, Heatly again won gold, this time in the 3m springboard and took bronze in the 10m highboard, before reclaiming his 10m title at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff. Heatly fondly remembers these three Games, although there were some striking differences with the Games of today. Perhaps the prime example of this was the athletes villages.

"The men and women were in separate camps in the village; we were kept apart with a non-climbable fence," said Heatly. "At the Games in Cardiff, the Duke of Edinburgh came to visit the ladies and they left the door to their side of the camp open. A few of the men managed to sneak in. I wasn't one of the people who went through, though - I was already in."

Heatly worked as a civil engineer for the family business throughout his years as an athlete, fitting his training and competitions around his work although he admits that his brother and father, who ran the business, were very accommodating over his schedule. "I don't think I'd have liked to have been a full-time athlete - I don't know how these athletes today survive being full-time," he said. "There's enough time in life to do something else - I think it's important to do other things."

The Scot predominantly trained at the outdoor pool in Portobello, a public facility, and Heatly had to negotiate the crowds of swimmers who were simultaneously using the pool. "The most helpful pool attendant was a guy called Sean Connery," recalls Heatly. "It was in the days before he was an actor and he used to make sure the pool was clear for me to dive into."

Heatly retired from his sport after the Games of 1958, becoming assistant team manager for Scotland at the 1962 Games. He then held a plethora of different posts before securing perhaps his most exalted position in 1982: chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation, a position he held for eight years.

In 1994, Heatly became life vice-president of the Commonwealth Games Federation and is also the Patron of Commonwealth Games Scotland.

Heatly has been to 16 consecutive Commonwealth Games, but insists he cannot pick a favourite. "They were all so different, I wouldn't like to put one in front of the other," he said. "The Games in Edinburgh in 1970 and 1986 were great, though. 1970, in particular, will be remembered as the friendliest Games - that was a tremendous experience."

The prospect of attending his 17th Games this summer is made even more thrilling with the fact that he may be watching a grandson follow in his own footsteps, with 16-year-old James Heatly in the running to be selected among Team Scotland's divers. He is British champion in the 3m springboard and the 3m synchronised springboard event, and the former result should be enough to earn him sufficient qualifying points to meet the criteria for selection for Glasgow 2014.

"I really enjoy watching James, he's doing very well," said his grandfather. "I'm very proud of how he's doing and I'm really looking forward to, I hope, watching him at the Commonwealth Games this summer. I don't have any predictions for how he'll do, though, just hopes."

Heatly remains Scotland's only Commonwealth Games diving medallist and has a connection with the Games that is now into its seventh decade. It is a staggering record, and one that is unlikely to be surpassed.

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