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Meeting two men who took gold at our last home Games

IT was one of only three gold medals at Scotland's last home Commonwealth Games in 1986.

Billy Gilliland and Dan Travers reflect on their Commonwealth Games gold medal success from Edinburgh 1986 with Dan's medal. Picture: Martin Shields
Billy Gilliland and Dan Travers reflect on their Commonwealth Games gold medal success from Edinburgh 1986 with Dan's medal. Picture: Martin Shields

It is Scottish badminton's only Commonwealth gold. Dan Travers and Billy Gilliland wrote themselves into the record books in Edinburgh 28 years ago with an achievement that has yet to be repeated.

The 1986 Commonwealth Games arrived towards the end of the careers of both men, their inaugural appearances having come in Edmonton in 1978 where Gilliland won silver in the mixed doubles with Joanna Flockhart. Gilliland and Travers were banned from competing in the 1982 Games as they were declared licensed players - effectively professionals, having received sponsorship and prize money - which prevented them from being selected.

So it was their home Games which was to prove their most fruitful. The pair can still vividly recall their feelings of the event, yet their disparate emotions prove intriguing.

"Going into those Games in Edinburgh, I felt less pressure than usual," says Gilliland. "To me, there were fewer distractions and it was easier to get ready to play in Scotland than it was abroad."

For Travers though, the experience was rather more harrowing. "I felt that there was a lot more pressure on us than usual, especially because of the absence of the Malaysian players due to the boycott [Some countries had boycotted the Games because of the attitude of Margaret Thatcher's government towards British sporting links with apartheid-era South Africa]," he says. "The burden of expectation was, I felt, difficult to handle. Being a typical Scot, I had a real fear of failure."

Whatever the reason, Travers and Gilliland almost departed the tournament in the opening round. Seeded second, they were just two points from defeat, trailing 13-9 in the final set to a New Zealand pair. Somehow, they pulled themselves out of that hole.

"We were both quite emotional having got through that first-round match," recalls Travers. "At the time, I didn't think we were too nervous but, with hindsight, I think we were panicking."

The pair advanced to the final where they would face the top-seeded English pair, Andy Goode and Nigel Tier. "Meadowbank Stadium was a sell-out but it wasn't a badminton crowd," says Travers.

"There was a lot of people there who weren't badminton fans; they just wanted to see Scotland beat England. There were banners saying 'Remember Bannockburn' and things like that; it's the best atmosphere I've ever played in."

Both were nervous as they walked on court, although Gilliland admits that he was somewhat better at hiding his feelings than Travers.

"I was probably more nervous than anyone but nobody apart from Dan could tell," says Gilliland, while Travers admits he was "completely terrified".

He adds: "I felt as if I had divers' boots on and, rather than looking at the match as an opportunity to win a gold medal, I was just terrified that we were going to lose."

The Scots went on to claim an historic victory, although receiving their gold medals was perhaps not the pleasurable experience it could have been. "I couldn't hear a single note of the national anthem, Scotland the Brave, because it was just so noisy; the crowd were going absolutely crazy," recalls Gilliland.

"That's a wee regret of mine," adds Travers, "that it wasn't quiet for the anthem. I'd dreamt of that moment my whole life but it was just bedlam. We had to shout to speak to each other even though we were standing side-by-side."

Their Commonwealth gold may be the result they are most recognised for in Scotland but it is not, in their eyes, their greatest achievement. That goes to their final appearance in the prestigious All England Championships in 1982.

The Scots advanced through the draw unseeded, with one of the best performances of their career coming in the quarter-finals when they defeated the top Chinese pair, recording a 15-0 scoreline in the first set. "It was just ridiculous how well we were playing in that tournament," said Gilliland.

"That was when we were at our peak; we became the No.2-ranked pair in the world that year."

Gilliland was also a world-class mixed doubles player and won Commonwealth silver in '78 and bronze in '86, as well as winning the All England Championship in 1985.

Badminton was not an Olympic sport at that time, though, so the pair were denied the opportunity to add an Olympic medal to their collection.

Both moved into coaching after finishing their playing careers, with Gilliland becoming Canada's national coach in 1987, a post he held for 12 years. He remained in Canada and is now headmaster at Edison High School in Okotoks, Alberta, in addition to part-owning a badminton club. Travers stayed closer to home, becoming Scotland's national coach in 1997 and presiding over the Scottish team at three Commonwealth Games, in each of which his players won medals.

This included Scotland's first team medal at Commonwealth Games in 2002 and my own women's singles bronze in 2006, an experience which Travers still claims gave him more than a few of his grey hairs.

Looking forward to this summer, both men realise the potential of Glasgow 2014 to showcase their sport. "Somewhere out there is a kid who will be inspired by the Commonwealth Games and we'll hear about them in the years to come," said Gilliland. "Every sport must take this opportunity, jump on the bandwagon, because nobody can afford to miss this chance."

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