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Meadowbank reminds us we need more than just state-of-the-art facilities to guarantee lasting success

SIR Chris Hoy was not in competitive action last night at the World Cup gala opening of Glasgow's new velodrome which bears his name, but he hopes to make a career valedictory appearance there at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Aspiration for the most costly sports facility built in Scotland (£113m) is rightly high. The expectation of last night's crowd told one that, yet a new state-of-the-art Scottish sports venue heralding a flood of major championship medals would be a triumph of hope over experience.

We have travelled this road before. Prior to the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, it was argued that good new facilities would promote performance and put the country on the sporting map, particularly in athletics and swimming. Doom-sayers suggested the Royal Commonwealth Pool and Meadowbank stadium would be a white elephant.

They cost barely £4m at prevailing prices, and subsequent volume of public usage suggests that it was money well invested – even if it cost several times that for a recent revamp of the listed swimming pool. But the elite performance legacy never happened.

The athletics medal haul in 1970, when just nine sports were contested, was stunning: eight (four of them gold) as Scotland finished fourth in the overall medal table. Swimming omens were less auspicious – just one bronze, from schoolboy David Wilkie. But neither sport became rich in subsequent performance legacy.

Glasgow, with inferior facilities then, experienced a talent drain, particularly in athletics, to the east which now boasted the country's first all-weather tartan surface. Yet major medal performances remain well short of matching that era. Scottish native records set in 1970 still stand, and domestic representation in Olympic teams continues to decline.

Wilkie went on to win World and Olympic gold, and three Scottish swimming medals out of six at the next Commonwealth Games. This represented a glimmer of hope, but Wilkie had already defected to Florida in search of better coaching, and there was just one athletics medal in 1974.

In six Commonwealth Games from 1978-98 Scotland averaged a single swimming medal in individual events before the tide began to turn in 2002, with freestyler Alison Sheppard winning the first Commonwealth gold since Wilkie.

Athletics continues to struggle through a similar famine. Despite five medals in 1990, the sport has averaged fewer than three medals over the past six Commonwealth editions. Glasgow 2014 will be the twentieth anniversary of Scotland's last athletics gold, by Yvonne Murray in Victoria.

And what of the vast investment in Murrayfield and Hampden? They are outstanding stadia, yet our national rugby and football teams remain lamentably short of world class. Facilities alone do not make champions. In two Olympics since the Athens Games in outstanding facilities which perhaps contributed to bankrupting their nation, Greece has won two silvers and four bronze in all sports.

The open-air wooden velodrome built at Meadowbank for 1970 certainly inspired the young Hoy, and still is used for training when it's dry and frost-free, but the unpredictability of East of Scotland weather helped drive Hoy south to world-class facilities backed by coaching infrastructure.

It's quality coaching which makes the difference, and for that to be meaningful, the service provider has to be fully-engaged – in this case Glasgow itself. That rarely seemed the case in Edinburgh where committed coaches were frequently frustrated. Hammers would disappear into uncut grass in the throwing area and plastic bags had to be tied to handles to assist retrieval. Athletes often clear snow in order to use the track, and access to a 100m indoor straight in the concourse has low priority. Antique fairs took precedence to training for Olympic aspirants last winter.

Omens for the Glasgow velodrome, however, are good. Scottish Cycling's chief coach, Graeme Herd, is a legend in the sport, and Delhi Commonwealth Games rider Kevin Stewart, at just 21, is the new velodrome's head coach appointed by Glasgow Life.

"We believe the new velodrome will be the catalyst for Scotland to develop world-class riders, and for people to get involved in the sport," said Jennifer Pearson for the Scottish governing body.

"The Manchester velodrome has produced outstanding athletes and that has been the same with velodromes worldwide.

"We know we need to engage with the community around this facility. That's why we are working with Glasgow Life to ensure school children and the cycling community in Scotland can use the facility as well, get behind it, and make it as accessible as possible.

"Coaching courses booked in for next year are already full, so we are increasing the number of courses. We planned courses for 35 coaches this year, but interest was so great that we put through 74. Not just new people, but people progressing to more elite level."

Continuing to succeed in this area is vital. Increased participation is laudable, but one look at football reminds us that sport is inevitably judged on medal success.

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