Young Scots on track for sports success

Expectations soar for promising batch of school athletes ahead of a big year for international events

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Angela Porter, director of the Glasgow School of Sport at Bellahouston Academy, believes the quality of athlete applying to join her set-up is higher than ever. With London 2012 fast approaching and the Commonwealth Games being held in Glasgow in 2014, she expects the bar to be raised even more as Scotland prepares to take full advantage.

The past year has seen some outstanding achievements by Scotland's school- aged athletes. At the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Isle of Man last September, Scotland finished sixth out of 63 countries on the final medal table, with a total of 22 medals (five gold, six silver and 11 bronze) - swimmer Craig Benson won three golds.

Scots such as swimmer Hannah Miley and weightlifter Peter Kirkbride have competed in previous Youth Games and gone on to represent Scotland at the highest level in world competition, so last September's event was an early yardstick.

If the Olympics and Commonwealth Games come too soon for the majority of those involved in the Isle of Man, the legacy left will bring on a new generation.

Sportscotland is investing pound;1.5 million annually until 2015, setting up eight community sports hubs (in South Lanarkshire, Edinburgh, Perth and Kinross, East Lothian, Orkney, North Lanarkshire, Glasgow and Highland) as part of the 2014 legacy. The hubs will be based around schools and sports centres and linked to existing networks such as Active Schools and regional sporting partnerships.

In South Lanarkshire, a hub was set up in August 2010 around Calderglen High in East Kilbride, which has allowed the community greater access to its sports pitches, games hall and three gymnasia.

Glasgow is building a new National Indoor Sporting Arena, which is expected to be completed by 2013, along with the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and the new Hockey Centre, and is refurbishing Tollcross Pool and Scotstoun Stadium.

The council's legacy document for 2014 pledges: "These facilities and dozens of others across the city will be open to all, free of charge or at a reduced rate. And we will invest in school sports, clubs, coaches and equipment to make sure as many people as possible can be active."

Angela Porter is excited at the prospect of the new facilities coming on line and is convinced that 2014 will inspire athletes across the city and beyond.

"It's given all our youngsters a local focus and it's much more real to them that it's going to be in Glasgow. There's a lot of excitement behind that and youngsters are working towards Commonwealth Games or Olympic selection, whatever time they're ready," she says.

"In terms of facilities, there will be opportunities around the National Indoor Sporting Arena and the refurbishment of Tollcross. Our swimmers have maybe been inconvenienced just now, but they know what the facilities are going to be like at the end of the day."

The school's current athletes are unlikely to be at the Commonwealth Games, she says. It's more likely to be its former pupils. At the last Games in Delhi, it had seven of its team there and swimmer Michael Jamieson won a silver medal.

"Michael has his heart set on the London Olympics and we're very hopeful he'll be there," she adds.

The school's performance targets are much higher and it is more focused on the long-term. Athletes know that they're not really going to peak until they've left, she says, so it is involved in ensuring that they make that transition from junior to senior squads.

"Youngsters coming to us are now much more talented and a lot of them are coming through at an earlier age. Primary 7 is the traditional entry point and there's not a massive change there but, in the later years, the competition is really quite stiff," she says.

"We're really getting the cream of the crop and the youngsters are very motivated, better informed and better prepared."


Tom Holligan

Firrhill High, Edinburgh

In his final year at school, the Edinburgh sprinter continues to show rivals a clean pair of heels. After twice winning the Scottish primary schools' cross-country title, Tom is now concentrating on sprints and was the flag bearer at the Commonwealth Youth Games on the Isle of Man in September.

He has won a handful of age-group titles in both Scotland and England, and won the 200m gold medal in the Isle of Man after finishing seventh in the 100m. It followed his success at the European Youth Championships in Turkey, where he won the 200m title and silver in the sprint relay.

The 17-year-old competes for Edinburgh AC and has the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in his sights.


Julie MacPherson

Royal High, Edinburgh

Julie capped an outstanding year by winning a treble at Under-15 level in the Scottish Junior Championships at Ravenscraig Sports Centre in October, where she won girls' singles, doubles (with Sarah Findlay) and mixed doubles (with Mark Leith).

She had already represented Scotland at the UK School Games in Sheffield, where she also played in all three events and recorded a notable win over Kelly Saunders of Wales before losing to England's Lynlette Aung. She also partnered Findlay to a win over Saunders and Sophie Arrighi in the first round of the doubles.

Julie first made her mark when she won the Scottish Under-11 title and is looking forward to continuing her progress in 2012.


Taylor McKeown

St Maurice's High, North Lanarkshire

The 15-year-old, who plays with Glasgow Rocks in the Scottish League, has made considerable progress over the past 12 months.

Having representing Scotland Under-15s, she has just been selected for the Under-16 squad for 2012 after coming through trials at the Lagoon Centre in Paisley in October and then at Armadale Academy the following month.

Her main target in 2012 will be playing for Scotland at the European Under-16 "C" Championships in Gibraltar at the end of the season.

Coached by Lisa Palombo at school, Taylor helped St Maurice's win a third successive Scottish Under-15 Cup.


Eilidh Crawford

Calderhead High, South Lanarkshire

Now turned 12, Eilidh has taken just two years to make her mark after taking her first clubgolf lesson at the Scottish Golf Academy.

She learned about coaching through Polkemmet Golf Club, which had instigated a major junior recruitment drive, and from day one received coaching from clubgolf Level 2 coach Macrina Crawford (no relation).

Eilidh went on to join Harburn Golf Club and last summer won the club's Ladies' Handicap, Civic Cup, and the Open Greensomes, where she partnered one of the club's oldest members. She became a Midlothian Ladies junior squad member, was nominated for the Scottish Golf Academy programme, and is continuing to bring her handicap down.


Douglas Ross

Glasgow School of Sport, Bellahouston Academy

A seventh-year gymnast at the school of sport, Douglas achieved the best result of his career in September, when he won the gold medal in the vault event at the Commonwealth Youth Games on the Isle of Man. That helped Scotland to fifth place in the team event, but the individual performance marked him out for a potential place in the Scotland team for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Three years ago when he was just breaking through, a hip injury threatened to end his gymnastics progress, but an operation put things right and he is now stronger than ever.

A member of the City of Glasgow club, Douglas is coached by Romanian 1988 Olympic bronze medallist Marius Gherman.


Lewis McCue

Harlaw Academy, Aberdeen

Lewis, a member of Aberdeen Schools Rowing Association, won the British Under-16 title at both single scull and coxless pair in 2011.

Just turned 17, he is a multiple Scottish Champion and represented his country at Under-18 level in the coxless four and coxed eight at the Home International Regatta. He also rowed for Great Britain against France at Under-16 level.

After placing fifth out of 152 in the GB trials, Lewis is hoping to make the Under-18 team for the World Junior Championships in 2012. He is supported by the Scottish Rowing Performance Programme and the sportscotland Institute of Sport (Grampian).


Craig Benson

James Young High, West Lothian

In his final year at school in Livingston, Craig has enjoyed a remarkable year, medalling at major championships.

A member of the famous Warrender Baths Club in Edinburgh and coached by Laurel Bailey, Benson set a British age-group record when he won the silver medal in the 100m breaststroke at the European Junior Championships in Belgrade.

He struck gold in the same event at the World Junior Championships in Lima to underline his outstanding potential.

Craig was named Scotland's Athlete of the Games at the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Isle of Man, where he won three gold medals - in the 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke.

To cap his year, he was named Sunday Mailsportscotland Junior Sportsperson of the Year at a glittering awards dinner in Glasgow in December.

Table Tennis

Rachel Crawford

Balfron High, Stirling

The 13-year-old won the Stirlingshire Schools title, was runner-up at minor and cadet girls at the Scottish National Championships and came out top of the national assessment event in both age groups. She was named Stirling and Midlands Most Improved Player.

Her goal for 2012 is to be selected for the Junior Six Nations Isle of Man in March and the British Schools' International in Guernsey in June.

"She has a great work ethic and gives 100 per cent at training sessions. She also is a great listener and soaks up the advice given to her and applies it in competition," says her coach, Mando Notarangelo.


Anastasia Mikheeva

St George's School for Girls, Edinburgh

Anastasia proved herself to be one of the best prospects in Europe for her age when she won the prestigious Tennis Europe title in Auray, France, last year, widely regarded as the top event for 12-and-under girls and boys.

Among other domestic and European titles, the 12-year-old won the AEGON British Under-12 National Championships and was an integral part of the GB team in her age group.

Anastasia is part of the Tennis Academy Scotland, coached by Marcel du Coudray and her father Andrei, and receives support through Tennis Scotland and the Future Stars programme.

She has also been mentored by British number one Elena Baltacha and will look to continue her success both domestically and internationally in 2012.


Marc McLaughlin

Carluke High, South Lanarkshire

The 15-year-old had a fantastic 2011 and played a starring role for Team Lanarkshire, which hosted the International Children's Games in August.

The following month, Marc also played in the UK School Games in Sheffield, and he has been invited to join the Scotland junior national team programme building towards the European Championship finals in Lanarkshire next April.

At club level, he has been playing for Su Ragazzi II in the second division of the Scottish League. Club coach Tommy Dowens says: "Considering his specialist position is as a setter, that's quite an achievement, probably more so because he is still eligible to play Under- 16 Junior National League this year."

Original headline: Young Scots on track for sports success in 2012 and beyond

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