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Jedi Knight wins Star Wars in Tollcross

IT was just after 9pm on the sort of night that attendants at Tollcross Swimming Centre in some misty future will be steeling themselves against - an influx of the big boys, taps aff, ready for testosterone-fuelled fun.

Ross Murdoch edges closer to gold as Michael Jamieson battles to silver. Picture: Nick Ponty
Ross Murdoch edges closer to gold as Michael Jamieson battles to silver. Picture: Nick Ponty

There was no refuge from the balmy air of the East End of Glasgow last night for those for whom swimming is fun rather than a lung-bursting challenge. The eight lanes were reserved for those who gasp for air as they reach for glory.

There was no escape either for three Scottish lads with ambition twitching in their limbs, a blank focus in their eyes and the adrenaline, and possibly the testosterone, alive and pulsating in bodies that have been sculpted by the unforgiving knife of hard work.

The interior of the swimming centre was humid enough to produce condensation on the goggles. There was no asylum from the heat or the fever of expectation in the inviting waters of a still pool.

The Terrific Trio of Tollcross waited for history to be made. The tide of fortune lay at their feet. There was hope, desire and fear. The athlete's dread of failure increases with his proximity to failure. Michael Jamieson, carrying the hype that can be as helpful as water wings in major swimming finals, Ross Murdoch, buoyed by a superb semi-final victory, and Calum Tait, who learned to swim up the road in Milngavie, were going for gold.

The arena had been unnecessarily warmed by the triumph of Hannah Miley in the 400m individual medley. The crowd, too, had basked in the victories of Ryan Cochrane, of Canada, in the 400m freestyle, Emma McKeon, of Australia, taking the 200 freestyle in a games record, Ryan Crothers, also of Australia, creating a world record in para-sport 100m freestyle. They were not dismayed by Robbie Renwick's seventh-place finish in the 400m.

They waited with an increasing tension for the Terrific Trio who brought with them a past that hinted at a stellar future. The crowd hailed the main event as the clock ticked down towards the starting time. The blue corner was cramped.

There was Jamieson: the face of the Games at 25, the athlete who has laboured under the limelight since his Olympic silver medal two years ago. There was Murdoch: the 20-year-old who had, with little subtlety and marvellous strength, came out swinging in the afternoon and cranked up the pressure on his countryman by beating him in their semi-final. There was Calum Tait: the 20-year-old contender who has taken time away from his medical studies to impose himself on another discipline.

They entered the arena to the sort of reception that the old-style Tollcross punters reserved for the ice cream van on pater's pay night. Tait came in with a bag on his back, looking like a schoolboy on exam day. A Jamieson smile broke in the face of an extraordinary roar. Murdoch was impassive. He had the eye of one who has glimpsed the prospect of glory. There were five other contenders. There was 200 metres of water to cover in a frenetic breaststroke.

That future began at 9.09, heralded by the bleep that causes swimmers to bound into water with the enthusiasm of a fox escaping hounds. The bell had rung. It was flight and fight.

At first it seemed as if Christain Sprenger, of Australia, would take the role of the party pooper, the guy who comes to a party without a carry-out and leaves with the prettiest girl. But gradually, inexorably, Jamieson and Murdoch came to the fore, with Tait slipping off in their imperious wake. The roar reached a growl, strained into the sort of guttural encouragement that seems purely Scottish, that causes no release of tension among the support, merely a raising of Caledonian hackles.

It seemed Jamieson was poised to turn Olympic silver into Games gold. He suddenly seemed powerful, even invincible. But what of the youngster on his shoulder? Murdoch would not buckle.

He inexorably drew level with Jamieson as their heads bobbed frenetically like two punters indulging in the East End favourite pastime of dooking for chips. There was a moment of realisation. Murdoch was going to win.

The dark horse had come up on the inside. Jamieson's race had been run. With a surge to the line it was over. Murdoch had won in 2.07.30, a Games record. Jamieson had come home in 2.8.40. The word record is 2.07.01. The bronze was taken by England's Andrew Willis in 2.09.87.

There was a tumult in the arena, but it was laced with a hint of surprise by those who had not taken full cognisance of the semi-final victory. Jamieson had to take time to compose himself. He hugged the lane barrier like a boxer holding on against a devastating onslaught.

Eventually, he turned to congratulate his team-mate. Murdoch's smile was slight. His composure only broke under the strains of Flower of Scotland. The laddie who loved science fiction movies, who wanted to be a Jedi Knight, had become the champion who won Star Wars in Tollcross.

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