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Home support can motivate local athletes but also prove a burden

Read an interview with any Scottish athlete taking part at Glasgow 2014 and they will, without fail, comment on their excitement at competing in front of the home crowd.

They will remark on how amazing it will be to have the backing of the Scottish supporters at a home Commonwealth Games and how they are sure that this encouragement will push them on to their best performance ever.

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There is also something of an assumption amongst observers that the home crowd will, almost inevitably, cheer and clap Team Scotland to its highest ever medal count at a Commonwealth Games. To date, Scotland's best medal tally is 33 medals, in Edinburgh in 1986, and Scotland's chef du mission, Jon Doig, has stated that his aim is for the team to surpass this total in Glasgow. There is a legitimate chance that Team Scotland will, indeed, collect a record number of medals, but it is by no means a given.

Competing in front of a home crowd at a major Games is unlike any other experience in sport. It can motivate and inspire athletes to excel, as happened at the London Olympics for Team GB and it is to be hoped that will happen to Team Scotland at Glasgow 2014.

At London 2012, Team GB won 65 medals, making it Britain's most successful Games since 1908. This was attributed, in large part, to the home crowd. There is little doubt that the fact it was a home Olympic Games bolstered the British performances, something almost every competing athlete, including myself, wholeheartedly endorsed.

Yet, it should not be taken for granted that home crowd support will automatically result in every Scottish athlete producing a top performance at the Glasgow Games. It takes a particular breed of person to thrive on the type of pressure that is exerted by a home crowd. Some thrive on it completely and utterly: at the London Olympics, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Andy Murray and Nicola Adams, among others, rose to the occasion to produce the performance of their lives. In other sporting spheres, the All Blacks have consistently been the best rugby union team in the world, yet they have only won the World Cup twice, in 1987 and 2011, both of which tournaments they hosted.

Other athletes, in contrast, most certainly do not thrive under the weight of pressure and expectation exerted by a home crowd. Some thought it was written in the stars that Brazil would win this year's football World Cup. Everyone wanted a fairytale ending: the greatest football nation hosting the tournament for the first time in 64 years; surely it was meant to be. Yet Brazil were not just trounced 7-1 by Germany but humiliated in a woeful semi-final display on Tuesday.

There are plenty of other examples of the pressure of a home crowd crushing an athlete: the Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo was the No.1 tennis player in the world and a double major winner yet never advanced beyond the quarter-finals of her home grand slam event at Roland Garros.

Similarly, Sam Stosur is a grand slam winner - she beat Serena Williams in a US Open final - yet has always fallen before the quarter-finals of her home grand slam tournament, the Australian Open, and admitted that the pressure gets to her.

It is an easy for outside observers to conclude that a home crowd will help an athlete but it is a pressure which cannot be replicated artificially, making it impossible to prepare for fully. Every Scottish athlete competing at this month's Commonwealth Games will be desperate to perform well; they will never have this opportunity again. Yet that desperation can be counterproductive if it dominates one's thoughts.

Ideally, Scottish athletes should approach Glasgow 2014 just as they approach any other competition. This, though, is impossible. The build-up to the Games has been bubbling for months and is now reaching a crescendo. It is impossible to ignore.

The number of distractions at a home Commonwealth Games will be innumerable; it is those who deal with these interferences best who will perform well.

For Michael Jamieson, the swimmer who is the 'Face of the Games' and will go for gold on day one of Glasgow 2014, the pressure to win on his home patch is immeasurable. Jamieson himself has said that anything less than gold will be a failure. There is no way of predicting how he will react when

he gets on to the blocks at the Tollcross pool on July 24.

We would all like to think that the deafening home support will spur him to gold. Yet if he ends up atop the podium, it should be appreciated just what a monumental feat dealing with the pressure of a home Games really is.

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