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Susan Egelstaff: hearing Jim Alder's story made me miss being inTeam Scotland

The hype around the Games and around Team Scotland is starting to build and the arrival of the Queen's Baton in Scotland has really amplified the excitement.

Jim Alder leads Don McGregor home in the Scottish Championship marathon and Commonwealth Games trial in 1970. Picture: Herald Archive
Jim Alder leads Don McGregor home in the Scottish Championship marathon and Commonwealth Games trial in 1970. Picture: Herald Archive

In recognition of this increasing enthusiasm, Commonwealth Games Scotland held a Queen's Baton Reception aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia last week.

For me, the reason that the three Commonwealth Games I attended as an athlete were so enjoyable was because I was given the opportunity to meet, and become friends with, athletes from so many different sports who, in most cases, I would never have otherwise met.

If I will miss anything about not being part of Team Scotland at Glasgow 2014, it is the team spirit and camaraderie which is the trademark of the Scottish team.

The Team Scotland Queen's Baton reception last week gave me the opportunity to catch up with a number of fellow athletes and support staff whom I have not seen for some time and also speak to some former athletes whom I had never met before.

The Queen's Baton was also there, giving most of us our first close-up look of the spectacular craftsmanship which has gone into its manufacture.

My highlight of the night was the interviews with former gold medallists, with the best stories coming from Jim Alder who won gold in the marathon for Scotland in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1966.

Alder has a strong Geordie accent - he was born in Scotland but relocated to Northumberland as a consequence of becoming a war orphan at nine-years-old but despite living in England, Alder still competed for Scotland.

The Scot was selected for the six miles and the marathon events in 1966 but the team managers decided that competing in two events in the heat and humidity of Jamaica would be too tough for any of the Scottish athletes, so forbade Alder from contesting the six miles, which came prior to the marathon in the Games schedule. Alder, now 73-years-old, recalls being in tears, he was so upset at their decision.

Eventually, the team managers were persuaded to let Alder run after all, which proved to be a wise decision as he took the bronze medal. However, after congratulating him, the Scottish officials then told him "don't fail in the marathon."

So, five days later, Alder ran the marathon. With a few miles to go it was down to two athletes - Alder and Englishman Bill Adcocks. Alder then dropped Adcocks and thought to himself, "I'm away here, I've won this."

There was a twist yet to come, however. The Royal Family had just landed in Jamaica so all the officials had left their designated posts around the course to greet them. Alder approached the stadium with a 200 yard lead but there was no one to direct him where to go.

A Scottish team manager called to him to run round a marker at the other end of the car park but Adcocks didn't run round this marker - he ran directly into the stadium.

Alder said, "When I did enter the stadium, with 300 yards to run, Bill was 50 yards in front of me." This still wasn't enough to halt Alder's charge to the gold medal. "I only caught him about 20 yards from the tape. I thought he'd let me win but he didn't. When it's your day, anything that comes up, you overcome it and you do it."

Alder also competed in a home Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970, narrowly failing to defend his marathon title when he took the silver medal. Even though Alder is now in his 70s, he is sharp as a tack and could remember his Commonwealth Games experiences like it was yesterday. It's stories like these that remind you just how much sport has changed in the intervening years.

There is a real, palpable excitement in Glasgow as the Games approach and one of the things I hope changes in the city as a result of the Games, is that the people of Glasgow and Scotland are inspired to become more healthy and active.

Bike Week recently took place and the event featured a host of activities within Glasgow. I was particularly excited to see the launch of the city's Mass Automated Cycle Hire scheme (MACH) which will see 400 bikes available for public hire at 30 sites across the city. This is similar to the 'Boris Bikes' in London and I hope this easy accessibility will encourage more people to cycle around Glasgow. In my opinion, it is schemes like this which will have the biggest impact on Glaswegians rather than the idea that thousands of children and adults will take up sport for the first time after watching the Games.

If the people of Glasgow become more conscious of their health and walk and cycle more as a result of Glasgow 2014, then the Games will have been an overwhelming success in my book.

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