Scottish Daily Mail

Archibald no longer outcast of the track

- JOHN GREECHAN Chief Sports Writer

MAYBE it is just the natural reaction to finally achieving something so, well, defining; having ‘Olympic gold medallist’ in front of your name must take some getting used to. Perhaps it also has something to do with being back home, living with her dad and training with the Scottish Cycling squad.

For whatever reason, Katie Archibald is in a reflective mood. Yes, the girl from Milngavie is wondering what might have been. Pondering over the road not travelled. And looking back with gratitude on the efforts of those who, for entirely altruistic reasons, gave the track cyclist those first faltering pushes around the rough-and-ready — now condemned — old Meadowbank velodrome.

Archibald, who won gold in the women’s team pursuit in Rio, took the acclaim of the crowds yesterday as she, along with Scotland’s other Olympic and Paralympic heroes, enjoyed a homecoming in Edinburgh.

In her quieter moments, however, she keeps coming back to the moment seven years ago, when one of the coaches at Edinburgh’s Racers club — an astute judge who had worked with Sir Chris Hoy himself, among others — decided she had potential.

The articulate and insightful 22-year-old told Sportsmail: ‘When you say you’ve worked really hard for something, well, everyone works hard. You have to acknowledg­e privilege, opportunit­y, circumstan­ce… all of that.

‘I have to accept that there have been some pretty big sliding doors moments for me. The key is to capitalise on those.

‘The first big turning point for me would have been getting a road bike. But probably, beyond that, it was meeting Allister Watson. He runs the kids’ club for the Racers club in Edinburgh.

‘I wouldn’t even be able to explain why he did the things he did for me, what he did to help me succeed. It’s difficult to even know where the motivation comes from for him, because he does so much for… well, I guess you’d call us the misfits.

‘When I was getting serious about track cycling, I was kind of past it for the youth programmes and not good enough for the senior programme. I was trapped.

‘And that’s what Allister does, he picks up the outcasts. He helped myself, he helped Callum Skinner — a two-time Olympic medallist — and lots of other members of the Scottish Cycling team that went to the Commonweal­th Games.

‘I’m fearful of what might have happened if I hadn’t met Allister at the age of 15. I wanted to go to Meadowbank — and I guess you would describe him as the man with the keys.

‘I went down to Meadowbank one day and said: “Hi, I’m Katie Archibald, I’ve been put in your direction because you seem to be the man about town”.

‘He is just this incredible guy. He seemed so incredibly laid back at the time, he lent me a bike, showed me some track skills, gave me some training advice. Before I knew it, I had basically an entire track cycling programme built around me.

‘There is this incredible tradition with the Racers, particular­ly on the amateur side at Meadowbank, which is kind of a secluded facility.’

The plans to demolish and rebuild the Meadowbank complex do not, as it stands, include a new cycle track to replace the one being flattened in the name of progress.

It’s a different story in Glasgow with the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, her temporary training home and a venue she hopes to grace at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup in November.

‘It’s fantastic what we’ve got in Glasgow and, because there is so much popularity, it is a really hi-tech facility — but that means there’s a lot of necessary bureaucrac­y,’ said Archibald.

‘You’ve got to do your accreditat­ions from one to four, you’ve got to register for track league — you’ve got to be, I guess, kind of officious about it.

‘That’s different to the Meadowbank days. It’s a blessing and a curse that, back then, it was sometimes more about who you knew to get you on the track.’

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