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A look back at Edinburgh 1986 through the eyes of a volunteer

Mary Allison

Scotland isn’t a newcomer to hosting the Commonwealth Games - the city of Edinburgh has twice had the honour of hosting the Games, in 1970 and 1986. As we look ahead to Glasgow 2014, who better than one of Scotland’s former Commonwealth Games volunteers to give us an insight into what we can expect in 2014?

Mary Allison, Head of Strategic Planning with sportscotland, volunteered at Edinburgh 1986. She says it was an experience she’ll never forget.

Do you have good memories of Edinburgh 1986?

It surprises me just how vibrant my memories of the Games still are. I often watch major sporting events and I find myself thinking back to that summer.

I know lots of people who were involved feel just like I do. I’ve bumped into a number of them unexpectedly over the years and they still take a real pride in having been a part of the Games.

What were the standout moments?

I was lucky enough to be involved in the Opening Ceremony. My, perhaps unenviable, role was to help direct a group of 30 excited school children through a dance routine. Despite the old saying in entertainment circles that you should never work with animals or children, I can honestly say it was brilliant.

Many years later, I sat down in a hair salon to find that the stylist (now all grown up) was one of the pupils at the Opening Ceremony. She seemed just as proud of her involvement as I was and she too was so excited about Glasgow.

What might surprise people about volunteering?

In the years to come when Glasgow 2014 volunteers meet each other, I’m sure they’ll discover a shared fondness and nostalgia for their Games. It’s a very human element of the legacy of every major event that’s easy to overlook, but really special.

What can Glasgow 2014 volunteers expect in terms of the sports and the atmosphere?

Other than the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, I was mainly based at Strathclyde Country Park for the rowing events, which is a nice parallel as I know it’s also the venue for the Glasgow 2014 Triathlon.

What I remember most is a real palpable sense of tension, well beyond mere excitement, that I think came from the athletes themselves. It was their moment – years of training all coming down to the few seconds here or there that made the difference between winning a medal or going home empty handed. It was absolutely electric.

Did volunteering at the Games have a lasting impact on you?

I’ve always enjoyed sports but witnessing them live, in that environment, was incredible. I’m not sure I’ve experienced anything like it before or since. I felt part of the team – not just a spectator.

Any regrets?

Sir Steve Redgrave, just Steve then, was involved and won a Gold medal in the single sculls. If I’d known the career he would go on to have, I’d have probably tried harder to get his autograph!

What are your expectations for Glasgow 2014?

The times are different now and the scale of the whole event will be dramatically bigger. If Glasgow 2014 volunteers get as much out of their Games as I did they’ll have a great experience, but I honestly believe it will be at least ten times better!

Read more volunteering stories.

The Glasgow XX Commonwealth Games are now over. This website is closed and for reference purposes only. Some external links may no longer work. For the latest news and information, please visit the Commonwealth Games Federation website.