THE man who won Scotland's very first medal of the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh is still an athlete in training, and has a role this year at the Games in Glasgow.

Weightlifter John McNiven, currently preparing to compete in next month's Scottish Masters Championships, is Scotland's most durable elite sportsman.

He began training for his sport in Cyprus, under EOKA gunfire 57 years ago, and made his first Games appearance in 1966, at the then Empire Games in Kingston, Jamaica. He was ever-present in the Scottish team until the Commonwealths were staged in Edinburgh for the second time in 1986. By then, he was 51, and competing against kids young enough to be his grand-children.

That record-equalling sixth appearance is now surpassed by Scottish bowler Willie Wood. Nevertheless, McNiven remains unique. His 27-year-old son, John, was also in the 1986 Scottish weightlifting team - the only father and son to compete in the same Games.

The 5ft 2in pocket Hercules, now 78, is an iconic figure in his sport, and he will be among the technical officials when the 2014 Games programme takes place at the Armadillo.

It was a Saturday morning in 1970. John's wife, Janet, was reading the front page of The Glasgow Herald. Suddenly her 11-year-old son yelled: "Dad's picture's on the back page!"

It was the first they knew of his bronze in Leith Town Hall late the previous evening. Young John took that medal to school, showing it to classmates and, more than a decade later, inspirational roles were reversed. The son urged his dad to get down to the gym as they made bids for the 1986 team.

Father had won a second Commonwealth bronze in 1974, and never placed worse than sixth. His citation when inducted into the Scottish Sport Hall of Fame in 2003, credits him with 25 Scottish national titles and 14 World Masters crowns.

"I've won a few more since then, but have lost count," he says.

It is more than 20 years since his MBE for services to the sport, and in 1993 he was an inaugural inductee to the World Masters Hall of Fame. The 1999 World Masters which he organised in Glasgow attracted more than 450 competitors.

It all began on National Service.

"I'd been married four days when I went off to Cyprus for two years, when the Suez crisis came up," he says. "I got an extra 78 pence per week on active service. We lived under canvas. I managed to get a lifting bar and lifted in a tent, to pass the time. The first time I competed when when I came back.

"Sometimes it was bad, with the terrorist activity. A truck with our guys going to play cricket was blown up outside our main gate. A friend from Possilpark, who shared my birthday, was killed."

His first two World Masters titles were by mail order, results sent to the world federation by post. In 1985, the event went live for the first time. McNiven could not afford to go to Colorado Springs, but British Caledonian Airways responded to a story in The Glasgow Herald and sponsored him.

When Glasgow Council could not afford to maintain the former Springburn Sports Centre (a listed building), lifters were reduced to working out in a Victorian steamie at the back of Govanhill Baths.

A big poster of the Soviet super-heavyweight double Olympic champion, Vassily Alexseyev, covered some of the peeling paintwork, peering down as the weights crashed to the floor.

This was something of a mockery. The Soviet lifter was reputed to receive up to $1500 for every world record. He set 79, and was unbeaten in nine years to 1979.

"When I went to that first Empire Games, I was away for nearly four weeks, and had to pay the council all the rent before I left, before leaving Janet and the two weans," he recalls. "I don't know if they thought I'd do a runner, but they were making sure it was paid."

Yet he is "not at all envious" of today's lottery-funded athletes. "You got kitted out at the Games, and were looked after, no problem. We got ten shillings [50 pence] a day in expenses in 1966. It might have bought you a can of beer, but we pooled ours, and hired a taxi to go sight-seeing round Montego Bay."

Both his bronze medals were at 52kg (just over eight stone). "Before Christchurch in 1974, I had to lose 17 pounds in 10 days," he recalls.

Shedding more than a stone, for an already-fit athlete of his weight, proved agony. "Scrambled egg for breakfast and do without lunch.

"You spent most of the day sipping one glass of water. When you showered, you'd have to watch you did not start drinking the water.

"In Christchurch, I had to be carried to a taxi and given a muscle-relaxant injection. I was crippled by cramp. My abdominals were already as rigid as a washboard when they began to ripple like bubbling toffee. It was the worst experience ever. I took two days to recover. My abs were popping out and I was pushing them back with my thumbs."

The early days of anti-doping were also problematic. In Edmonton, in 1978, he could not give a sample. Four beers were quaffed in a vain exhortation to nature. The doping doctor accompanying him joined in. McNiven was starving. It seemed sensible to eat. Steak, egg, chips, two coffees, ice cream, fruit - still no sample. They adjourned to McNiven's room with a seven-gill bottle of Scotch, countless soft drinks, and a few other lifters. Some 12 hours after the contest, nature intervened. "But by then the MO wasn't sure what he was seeing, and frankly, neither of us cared."

His matchless cv includes numerous British open titles in three weight categories. At the British Masters Championship last year, he won the 62-kilo division with better totals than the winners in the two bodyweight categories above him. He competed just once in powerlifting for Britain, a bad experience despite beating a European record.

"I went to Germany for the World and Euro Championships. The British team was introduced to each other, and then they say: 'Here's John McNiven - he's a weight lifter.' Near the end of my competition, an English guy was ahead of me. I told them that whatever he lifted, to start me 18k more - just enough to win. When he failed, they stuck 200 kilos on the bar - 18 kilos more than I needed. If I had bombed out the English guy would have won. It was completely wrong, but they would not change it. It was the British team coach's responsibility.

"When I stood over the bar, the only ones cheering me on were the Germans. I made it - more than I'd ever dead-lifted before - and took the world and European titles and the European record. Then I told coach Ron Reeves, an Englishman, I would never powerlift again for Britain."

Yet his devotion endures. He still coaches, has filled every role imaginable, and is chair of the Scottish governing body. He reckons Scotland has only one medal contender this year, Peter Kirkbride. Three women have qualified thus far, "but will need to improve to have any medal chance," he says, "and where are the rest of the males?"