For British athletes, this summer’s Commonwealth Games will be another opportunity to compete on home soil, in relatively familiar surroundings and in front of a crowd likely to be populated with friends and family members.
The Birmingham Games will also bring about an – what is for many, rare – opportunity to experience competing for your home nation, for a different flag and in a different kit, but with all the usual intensity of international competition.
How does the experience differ from competing for Great Britain? What are the benefits, and are there any drawbacks? Olympic and World Championship medallist Eilidh Doyle competed and medalled at three different Commonwealth Games for Scotland, and was chosen to carry her nation’s flag in the opening ceremony at the final of those Games appearances, at Gold Coast 2018.
Here, she speaks of her experiences and passes on advice to athletes for whom Birmingham will be a debut Games.
“Growing up, I had always dreamed of representing Scotland. I feel very patriotic, and I have always been so proud of being Scottish. The older I got and the more serious I became about athletics, I soon realised that the main opportunity to represent Scotland was at the Commonwealth Games, so it soon became a big target of mine to try and make that team.
“I got to fulfil this ambition in Delhi in 2010. It was my first ever multi-sport championship event, and it ranks as one of the best championships I’ve been to in terms of team-mates and camaraderie.
“It was an unusual build-up because it was very late in the year in terms of the athletics season and there was a lot of negativity surrounding the venues and facilities, suggesting nothing would be ready for us in time.
“From the offset, Team Scotland reassured us that they would do everything in their power to make sure we had everything we needed when we got there and that definitely was the case. I think that reassurance and support resonated throughout the whole team as we felt really united and together as Team Scotland. It obviously helped with my performance as I went on to win my first ever medal at a major championship, a silver.
“This team unity had an impact on how I felt competing for Scotland in comparison to Great Britain. I am obviously incredibly proud to represent both, however the Scotland team is much smaller, especially in terms of the athletics squad, and so it feels more intimate and united.
“We are also a very patriotic country and that showed in how we got behind one another, from all sports, and celebrated everyone’s success. I had expected a little of that when I first got selected to represent Team Scotland, but it took me by surprise how that team spirit filtered throughout the whole team, not just your own sport.
“Within the 400m hurdles competition, it didn’t feel strange competing against other British athletes, as I was used to racing against them regularly. However, it was different when it came to the 4x400m relay, as I was in a team racing against girls who would normally be in my team.
“When I was handed the baton though, it was all forgotten and I was running as fast as I could!
“However, the strangest part was being in the call up room beforehand and seeing my usual team-mates in different kit, and as the opposition rather than compatriots. Nevertheless, there is a reason they call the Commonwealth Games ‘The Friendly Games’, and although we were on different teams everyone was still friendly, supportive and encouraging.
“Carrying the flag for Scotland at Gold Coast in 2018 is definitely one of my proudest moments. It’s funny because when I retired, I asked my parents what their favourite moment of my whole career was. My mum, without hesitation, said seeing me carry the flag for Scotland, and my dad said it was when I did my lap of honour in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
“I found it interesting that neither of them chose a medal or race I had won, and both chose moments where I was representing Scotland.
“When growing up and targeting a career in sport, you dream of winning races and medals or competing at championships; I never dreamed about accolades like carrying the flag because I never expected them, so I think that added to my pride when achieving them. I’ll never forget the feeling of being able to step out into that stadium and wave the saltire, whilst also creating history in being the first female flagbearer for Scotland.
“If I was to give any advice to athletes selected for their first Commonwealth Games, it would be to embrace it and take in as much as you can. Although it is in Birmingham, it will still feel very much like a home games for Scottish athletes, and the atmosphere will be special.
“I remember so many of the Welsh and English athletes saying they felt Glasgow 2014 was a home games for them and they loved stepping out into the stadium to hear the roar of the crowd.
“Secondly, although it may be your first games, there is no need to be intimidated or feel out of place. The Commonwealths only come around every four years, so make the most of this opportunity and leave nothing behind when you are out there competing. You have made the team, so you have every right to be out there performing at your best and achieving your goals.”