This feature started as a tweet late at night, a request for people to suggest their top-five sporting Scots of the decade. The responses came in a blur.
Days after the original question was posed they were still coming. Name after name, sport after sport. A top five became a top 20 and then a top 50.
Asking for nominations was the easy part. Going through them all, registering each suggestion and then adding to the master list proved challenging. There have been about 150 different versions of our top 50. A rower moved up a place, a footballer moved down a place, a person coming in from left field to replace somebody who was in and then was out. All the time, the mind was driven that bit closer to distraction.
How do you construct a top 50 of the greatest sporting Scots of the decade? With great difficulty, as it turns out. It’s tough enough to figure out the chosen ones, but then to rank them in order from 50-1 is a task that tens of thousands of people might try but one that would surely produce tens of thousands of different outcomes. I
It’s fun, though. There’s no right way or wrong way of doing this. If sport resulted in everybody agreeing with each other then what a dull world it would be.
There are people on this list – not many, but some – who have won precious little in their careers but whose world-class talent demands that they be included. But where? How do you look on somebody whose star shone briefly in the decade but incredibly brightly? How do you rank somebody who excelled for years but in a sport where the competition wasn’t as hot as other sports? Weighting achievement across the sports is no easy business.
Is longevity a pre-requisite or should there be a place for one-off brilliance? Where do you place an athlete with World Championship gold medals compared to one with Olympic silver? How many footballers deserve – truly deserve – to make it? What those those compete wonderfully but in sports with little following? How do we look on Para-sportsmen and sportswomen and their place in the overall scheme?
There were any amount of real puzzlers. Numerous times there was gridlock when trying to separate two people from the same sport with similar achievements. In that case, advice from an expert from that sport was sought. Normally, it went something like this: “I’d pick X ahead of Y and here are the reasons, but don’t quote me!”
The final list, then. Fifty names from 25 different sports. You may disagree with much of it, but consensus on this kind of thing is always overrated.
30. Katherine Grainger
The double sculls rower had been knocking on the door of Olympic gold for longest time until finally it arrived at London 2012. Silver in Sydney in 2000, silver in Athens in 2004, silver again in Beijing in 2008, Grainger refused to give up on her dream of finally standing on top of the podium. Had the Olympics been anywhere other than London that summer you wonder if she would have had the heart to commit and go again for a fourth time, but she did and, along her partner Anna Watkin, she dominated practically every race she appeared in that year.
It was a triumph that was hailed around the Olympic world because everybody knew Grainger’s story and everybody understood her joy and relief at finally being able to call herself Olympic champion. She also won World Championship gold in 2010 and 2011. Since her retirement she has been appointed chair of UK Sport. She remains a hugely respected figure, now as administrator rather than athlete.
29. Gordon Reid
Wheelchair tennis hasn’t really known anything like Gordon Reid, who won 11 Grand Slam titles in the decade along with Paralympic gold and silver. The roll call is quite something. His singles titles all came in 2016 in Australia, Wimbledon and Rio. In doubles he the Australian in 2017, the French in 2015 and 2016, Wimbledon in 2016, 2017, 2018 and the US Open in 2015, 2017, 2018.
Most of those titles were won while playing a maximum of three matches. The fields are not particularly deep in the wheelchair majors as yet. In winning gold in Rio, Reid had to work his way through five matches, however. The man’s excellence and endurance have seen him saluted regularly by the great one himself, Andy Murray. What a decade it has been for Scottish tennis. Freakish, brilliant, unforgettable and probably unrepeatable once the Murrays and Reid leave the stage. Pure magic.
28. Paul Foster
It’s hard to think of Foster without an image of his great mate Alex ‘Tattie’ Marshall also springing to mind. As a duo they have won big title after big title, but Foster is as great in singles as he in pairs. He’s one of the sport’s prolific winners and the decade saw him winning his fourth and fifth World Indoors singles titles.
In the past 10 years he has won eight gold medals at the World Indoors (to go with the four he won in the previous decade), he has won three golds at the Commonwealth Games (four in total) and he also won gold at the outdoor World Championships. Opponents say of him that he’s deadly in the white heat of competition, that his focus and confidence seems to grow the more the pressure comes on. His medal haul backs that up. The redoubtable Tattie might be the one who gets most attention, but Foster’s career in the sport has not only taken him around the world but to the top of the world.
27. Alex ‘Tattie’ Marshall
It’s somehow fitting to have Marshall and Foster so close to each other on the list given they have had so many gold-laden days side by side in their sport. They’re an incomparable duo, the best the sport has seen in many years. Marshall is a medal machine, winning 26 golds at major championships in his career. A good number of them were in this decade as he became something of a cult hero.
Marshall won World Indoors gold in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, won Commonwealth Games gold in Glasgow in 2014, won World Indoors singles gold in 2015, Commonwealth Games gold in 2018 and World Indoors gold in 2019. He’s a six-time World Indoors singles champion (Foster is the only other man who has won four or more) and a five-time Commonwealth Games champion and, as such, he’s Scotland’s most decorated performer at the Games.
26. Katie Archibald
Scotland’s first female track cycling world champion, but that only tells part of the story. Sure, track cyclists get multiple opportunities to win medals at the major championships – an advantage they hold over most other sports with the exception of swimming – but Archibald’s consistency has been truly incredible.
Since 2013 she has won 17 gold medals across a range of events at the Olympics, the Worlds, the Europeans and the Commonwealth Games. She won gold in Rio in the team pursuit, gold at the Worlds in the omnium, the madison and the team pursuit in Colombia, Hong Kong and the Netherlands and an array of golds and silvers at the Europeans in the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Germany and Scotland.
Archibald also won gold, and silver, at the Commonwealth Games in Australia. She’s not only one of Scotland’s most travelled athletes but one of Scotland’s most prolific gatherers of international medals.
25. Hannah Miley
Reared in the modest swimming environment of the Inverurie Swimming Centre, Hannah Miley became a two-time Commonwealth Games champion, a two-time European short-course champion and a world short-course champion. She represented Great Britain at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, London in 2012 and Rio in 2016. Her best event was the 400m individual medley and she came painfully close to winning an Olympic medal in that event.
Sixth in the final in 2008, fifth in the final in 2012 and fourth in the final in 2016, Miley came up against some of the greatest female swimmers in those races. In each of those 400IM finals the gold medallist (Stephanie Rice, then Ye Shiwen, then Katinka Hosszu) broke the world record. The Rio final was the most agonising. Hosszu, now a three-time Olympic champion, won in a world’s best time. Maya DiRado, now a double Olympic champion, was second, and Mireia Belmonte, another Olympic gold medallist, was third. Miley was fractions of a second behind in fourth. As an ambassador for her sport there is nobody better.
24. Stephen Gallacher
Scottish golf has not been awash with worldwide winners in the decade but Gallacher has got across the line three times, winning the Dubai Desert Classic in 2013 and 2014 and the Indian Open in 2019. Apart from Gallacher, only Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Ernie Els have won two or more Desert Classics, so the Scot is in good company. The 2014 victory was achieved with McIlroy, Woods and Brooks Koepka in the field.
That was a special year for Gallacher, his form being of such a high order that Paul McGinley picked him as a wildcard for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. As impressive as his golf was for large parts of the past 10 years, it’s his work in establishing a golf foundation that may prove his greatest legacy.
Taking inspiration from Paul Lawrie’s foundation, Gallacher, with the assistance of the top class people at Kingsfield golf club in Linlithgow, has put his heart and soul into giving young kids a chance to play golf in a fun way. Golf can feel intimidating and dull to youngsters. Gallacher is on a hugely impressive mission to change that perception.
23. Finn Russell
Depending on your vintage, there could be a fierce argument about who is Scotland’s greatest ever fly-half. Plenty will not hear of another name apart from John Rutherford, the genius of yesteryear. Younger supporters will say that Russell is out on his own. Two things unite the pair – Rutherford had then and Russell has now an ability to make you go ‘wow!’
Since moving from Glasgow to the Paris giants Racing 92, Russell seems to have got even better. Rugby has become a game of brutality, a sport where the team with the biggest and nastiest beasts tends to win the day. Watching big man hit big man is not the sole reason why people fell in love with rugby in the first place; Russell in flight is a reminder of the beautiful game. Against England in 2018 he threw one of the great passes of all-time to spark a stunning try. Full of vision and skill and creativity and daring, he is a wondrous talent with some brilliant years ahead of him.
22. Russell Knox
The Inverness man arrived on the world golf stage in the last five years, winning twice on the PGA Tour and once on the European Tour. His maiden victory was also his greatest.
By taking a WGC title in 2015, Knox beat the cream of world golf. Behind him in the top 10 lay Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth. Outside the top 10, and well behind the Scot, sat just about every world-class golfer worth talking about. It was a momentous achievement.
He backed it up by taking the 2016 Travelers Championship and then won the Irish Open in 2018. He has come agonisingly close to winning more titles, losing twice in play-offs in the USA. There’s been some controversy surrounding him in that many people, including himself, expected him to be picked for the 2016 Ryder Cup, but he was left out. Regaining his form and making that team will surely be one of his key goals in the decade ahead.
21. Lucinda Russell
The racehorse trainer from Milnathort was close to one of the greatest Scottish sporting stories of the decade and also the most tragic. In 2012, Russell saddled Brindisi Breeze to win the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, the Olympics of national hunt racing. Brindisi Breeze was ridden by the promising young Haddington jockey, Campbell Gillies.
Two months after their triumph, the horse was knocked down and killed by a truck. A month later, Gillies lost his life in a swimming pool accident while on holiday in Corfu. Both protagonists gone within three months of their finest day. Sad beyond words.
Russell carried on and in 2017 she became only the fourth victorious female trainer in the 180-year history of the Grand National when One For Arthur triumphed at 14-1. Mostly, but not exclusively, the big races are won by the monied super stables in England and Ireland but Russell bucked the trend. One For Arthur was only the second Scottish-trained winner of the National and the first since John Leadbetter’s Rubstic won in 1979.
The athletes ranked from 20-11 will be revealed on Monday, with the top 10 announced on Hogmanay.