A party of 79 competing athletes will set off from Stornoway this Saturday, intent on achieving sporting success at the Nat West World Island Games in Jersey.
The games represent a biennial showpiece in Hebridean sport, and the Western Isles have assembled their biggest-ever squad for the trip to the Channel Islands.
Across seven days of competition the team will compete in nine sports, with the challenge to get as close as they can to the record haul of 10 medals won in Bermuda 2013.
Some familiar names will be among the podium hopes.
Since she won two golds at her debut games in Bermuda, South Uist’s Kerry MacPhee has gone on to represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games and to establish herself as a leading competitor on the British mountain biking circuit. She goes in the MTB cross country and criterium events — and this year is joined in the team by her sister Kirsty.
On the track Eilidh MacKenzie is bidding to win gold for a fifth consecutive games, and she will be defending the 1500-metre title. Though traditionally a middle-distance speciallist, she’s moved up a category and is also set to have a crack at the 5000 metres.
Donnie MacLeod will hope to be in contention in the 400 and 800 metres races which brought him silver and gold last time out. If previous games are anything to go by, relay events and the half marathon may also offer potential avenues towards a team medal.
A new generation hungry for success is spearheaded by Connor MacLean, the Scottish junior cross country champion. Coaches rate him as one of the best young athletes ever to have come out of the islands, so the 1500 and 5000 metres will be two races to watch. Joining Connor is his stablemate and another exciting prospect, Michael MacMillan.
The swimming pool has yet to bring the Western Isles an island games medal, but that could change if Kara Hanlon has anything to do with it. Competing in what will be her third island games, the Edinburgh University breaststroke specialist will head to Jersey fresh from a training camp in Barcelona.
Kara and Kathryn Offer — another with substantial games experience – will be joined in the swim team by youngsters Lucy Doig, Isla Budge and Katie Murray.
Western Isles team manager Iain Campbell said the games had the potential to inspire youngsters and to create role models for up-and-coming athletes.
“The other three swimmers are very young, but they are achieving similar times to what Kara achieved when she came to her first games four years ago in the Isle of Wight,” he added. “They now have a role model to follow, who has come through an elite programme developed here in the islands. That is very much what the games are about.”
Campbell added that Paul Finnegan from Harris would be the Western Isles’ sole competitor in badminton. Again the team are using that participation as a means from which they hope the sport will get a boost in popularity. The same goes for the triathlon, in which Mark MacIver will also fly solo.
The Western Isles’ first games apearances in Shetland and Rhodes brought success on the football field — but with competition pretty fierce, the men’s squad will be very much an outside hope for medals. The 19- man squad will play three games in three days — and one to look forward to is their Monday meeting against hosts Jersey at the Springfield Stadium.
The women’s football squad just missed out on bronze in their last games appearance in the Isle of Wight in 2013, and they’ll hope to build on the success of the Nicolson Institute teams of recent seasons. However, the squad — managed by Catherine Ann MacLeod and Euan MacLeod — have been drawn in a tough-looking group. They open against the Isle of Man on Sunday before taking on Gotland and then Gibralter.
After missing out in Bermuda, the Western Isles will again have representation in shooting and golf in Jersey. Harris gun club member Stuart MacLeod joins games veterans from Uist Archie MacVicar, Donald MacInnes and Donald Walker. In golf David Black — another seasoned games campaigner — will hope to take his excellent club form onto the course in Jersey. He and Kevin MacRae, who can also draw on years of games experience, will be joined this time by new additions Bryan Geddes and Allan Macleod.
The games open on Saturday night, and in all 3,000 competitors from 24 island teams will take part in a programme of 14 sports throughout the week.