The memory of winning an Olympic gold medal this summer has endured for Tim Baillie, but so has the responsibility that comes with such a feat. The Scot has divided his time since soaking in the euphoria of a dramatic canoe slalom C2-class final victory in London – and the waters of the Lee Valley course – between waving to the public and ushering them towards his sport.
His celebrity is an accessory to the gold medal which came to adorn his neck at the London Games, but he has sought to fashion it into something more practical. Glory achieved on less eminent sporting fields is fickle by nature and it will slip from public view eventually, making the time spent holding the attention all the more important. It is that idea which will propel Baillie down the white water course on the River Tay in Highland Perthshire at the Scottish Canoe Slalom Championships today.
He is not the only decorated competitor at the event – Campbell Walsh, a K1 silver medallist in Athens will also race – but Baillie's place at the zenith of canoe slalom will attract increased attention. He will revel in it; the 33-year-old is as keen to use his experience to steer a younger generation of Scots through their careers as he is to guide a canoe down the rapids. He will try, too, to reflect some of his spotlight on to the projects intended to advance the sport in his home country. Plans are underway to construct a white water course in Glasgow to hone the skills of youngsters intent on emulating Baillie and that will come to work in tandem with an elite Olympic-standard paddle centre elsewhere in the country.
It is his ambassadorial role which will most occupy the Scot today, his competitive streak stripped further by the absence of C2 partner Etienne Scott after the pair agreed to suspend training together until Christmas. Their partnership brought gold in London but they consider themselves stronger apart when trying to expand support for their sport.
"It is really a fun race for me to see old friends and catch up with people," said Baillie. "I've been at home in Scotland for the past week – there was the parade in Glasgow then I was in Aberdeen and we have the Scottish Champs this weekend. I've been visiting schools around my hometown and just, you know, doing all the things you thought you would do if you went to the Olympics. At the moment we are in full throttle and doing as much to push our sport and get as much mileage as we can."
His hope is that will limit the distance the next generation will have to travel in order to gain prominence. Baillie's formative years were founded on the advice he received from elite paddlers based in Scotland, yet he, Walsh and David Florence – who took silver in the C2 in London and was No.1 in the world rankings in the single-man K1 discipline ahead of the Games – were compelled to move south in order to fulfil the potential shown on home waters.
Baillie trained at the sport's UK base in Nottingham while attending the city's university, where he gained a degree in mechanical engineering – a typical path for an aspiring British canoeist, but a costly undertaking for Scots.
"It is hard for young paddlers now, particularly as university is still free in Scotland, to go down to England as it is going to cost you a whole heap of money," said Baillie. "We do have some really good athletes coming out of Scotland, but everybody has to go south to really make it to the top."