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Squash: Gillen-Buchert relishes head start

Every time Frania Gillen-Buchert goes to work, she is reminded how many days remain until the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony.

Frania Gillen-Buchert wants to hang up her racquet knowing she has given 100%       Photograph: Steve Cox
Frania Gillen-Buchert wants to hang up her racquet knowing she has given 100% Photograph: Steve Cox

The reception area at the Judo Scotland offices in Ratho, where the 32-year-old works as events and communications executive, has a screen that ticks off the days. Today, it will show 110.

It is a hectic life trying to juggle a full-time job with training for a major event. An hour-and-a-half in the weights gym before work and back in the gym for a double session after work, is not for the half-hearted. But Gillen-Buchert concedes that she is in a privileged position.

In the adjoining dojo, Scotland's leading judo players sweat it out knowing they have less than a month to put forward their case for Commonwealth Games selection. Gillen-Buchert has been confirmed as part of Team Scotland since September, having been named in the first batch of 27 athletes selected, winning her place due to her exploits on the squash court.

She has never been tempted to chance her arm at judo in spite of her day job with it too great an injury risk as she closes in on her third, and most likely, final Games. There are bumps and bruises enough in her own sport, notoriously in doubles where she will play mixed with Alan Clyne and women's with Philadelphia-based Alex Clark.

"There is a lot more contact in doubles," she says. "We all have eyewear and I've seen someone break their racquet on their partner's nose before. It's all accidental.

"In doubles, you are going to get hit, there's no question about it. You're essentially in a box with four people and a ball flying around at ridiculous speeds. Everyone has quick reactions and wants to win. It's high intensity and there is a lot of pressure, so accidents happen. The game is so quick and when you're caught up in the moment, it can be difficult to see players. It's unpredictable

"I have been hit quite a few times. I have a scar on the back of my leg from getting drilled by the ball. It's sore but you just move on. I wear the eye visor that covers the whole face, just for the safety element."

While Gillen-Buchert and Clyne reached the quarter-finals in Delhi four years ago, this time around they are in with a chance of a medal. The pair finished runners-up in the British Open in January and won the Scottish Closed title at Scotstoun, the Games' venue, but getting together for competitions is something of a rarity.

They will not compete together now until Glasgow 2014 but it is not anticipated as a problem as there will be a solid block of doubles training before the event.

There is also the bonus of an accessible doubles court in Scotland now (the only other one is in Shetland) and Gillen-Buchert frequently drives to Glasgow for solo practice.

"Doubles is a great leveller. You can take the best players in the world and put them on a doubles court and it brings everyone to the same level," she says. "Alan and I have had some really good results in the past; we've beaten James Willstrop and Jenny Duncalf and Adrian Grant and Alison Waters. In singles terms, we'd never get near them.

"But we're not getting complacent because we've had some good results because, come the Games, everyone will raise their game and be more prepared.

"On the day, we definitely have an opportunity in the mixed. For me, it's not necessarily about coming out with a medal, it's more that this could be my last Games - this is probably it.

"So as long as I can hang my racquet up knowing that I've given 100%, that's all I want. If it results in a medal, then all well and good."

Gillen-Buchert's relationship with Clark - playing together at a Games for the first time - is even more distant, although the pair spent three weeks together in Australia last year and a week in London in January.

"It's OK, we keep in touch. Facebook is wonderful. We can still practise what we need to individually and we're very clear what we've been working on so it's fine," Gillen-Buchert says.

Born in Cape Town, where she was coached by her Kenyan mother Diana from the age of five, she came to Edinburgh aged 14 with her Scottish father, Edmund, where it was quickly spotted that she was eligible to compete for Scotland.

By the time she was 24, she was picked for her first Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. She admits it was hard to take it all in but says there will not be the same distractions before she takes to the court in Glasgow.

"Looking back on my first Games, I felt I was 100% ready at the time. We'd done everything we needed to do but stepping out on to court where there were 3000 cheering Australians was something else. You do stand back and think 'wow'. It's such an experience being at a Games. You are so busy absorbing everything, such as the village, where you can see superstars from other sports and be blown away.

"I felt I had earned my place as I'd worked really hard. We were the last people on the plane as we had to qualify right up until the very end and we went there and did the best we could.

"This time, my training goals are all about what I have to do to win and how to prepare. It's a nice way to train as it's a bit more relaxed and you can focus on the actual competition rather than having the stress of having to qualify.

"Some athletes are selected very close to the Games and only have a couple of months to prepare. I've had a bit of extra time to get my head around it."

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