Olympic cyclist Callum Skinner on adjusting to fame
IT'S been a month of victory, disbelief and exhaustion for Callum Skinner that will go down in history.
After scooping two coveted medals at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the champion cyclist is still coming to terms with his success, and newly acquired fame.
But during a swift visit home to Edinburgh, Callum reveals that for the next two weeks he will be swapping two wheels for four, as he sets off around Europe on his summer holiday.
The former pupil of James Gillespie’s High School will be driving his own car to the south of France on Friday, where he is looking forward to relaxing and “catching up on sleep”.
He then plans to travel through Germany before returning to the UK.
Smiling as he recalls his Olympic adventure, the 24-year-old admits it’s taking a while for everything to sink in.
“To cross the finish line and win gold was just amazing,” he tells the Evening News.
“It was always going to be a bit of a struggle because our previous world championships had been disastrous to say the least.”
Callum won Olympic gold in the men’s team sprint and silver in the men’s individual sprint while competing as part of Team GB.
He became the first Scot to clinch gold in Rio, and set a new Olympic record as he helped beat New Zeland.
He recalls: “Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes were first at the 500-metre point, I think, and then more or less I brought it home.
“There was a lot of pressure to live up to their expectations, and also the public’s expectations.
“British Cycling won the last two team sprints with Chris Hoy so there was all that pressure too.
“For it to come off the way it did was incredible.
“We broke the Olympic record. It wasn’t just the way we won it, it was how we won it that made it so special.”
Beaming with pride, Callum, who was brought up in Bruntsfield, laughs as he remembers his nights partying in Rio.
It wasn’t until he’d finished competing that he could finally relax and soak up the Olympic atmosphere.
His admiration for the flashing shoes he wore during the closing ceremony is apparent, and he reveals they are now securely locked away in a cupboard at home – but may make another appearance for a special occasion.
“After I’d finished competing I just enjoyed myself,” he says.
“I followed the same pattern night after night. You accept the hospitality of a corporate house or a nation’s house – every nation has their own.
“It was great to just spend some time socialising with my fellow Olympians and soaking up the atmosphere, because when you first arrive you are there to do a job and that’s all you concentrate on.
“From the outside in, we might have seemed a bit cliquey and that’s because we are.
“We are there as a team and we are there to do a job.
“Afterwards, that’s when we can enjoy the Olympic experience and soak it all up. Do the closing ceremony and get involved in that buzz.
“The shoes were a nice little gimmick. They are in the cupboard in my house, I might bring them back out for a night out or something.”
Callum insists he spent the long plane journey home catching up on sleep in first class, while some of the other Team GB athletes kept the party alive.
When they touched down in Heathrow, that’s when it hit Callum how much of an impact his actions had on his country, and he was overwhelmed with support.
“When we came off the plane the border patrol had made a tunnel for us and they were clapping us through,” he says.
“Then when we got into the arrivals hall there were hundreds and hundreds of genuine fans, they were overwhelmed and really happy.
“That’s when it really hit home what had happened. It was surreal.
“In Rio you have no sense of what is going on back home.”
Despite being dubbed the next Chris Hoy, Callum admitted to only being stopped “once or twice” since being back in his hometown.
He branded the Fringe “a blessing in disguise” for taking the spotlight off his heroics.
“I think because it’s festival time everyone has been really busy, trying to get to the next show and so on,” he said.
“I’ve only been stopped once or twice in the street, I think the festival being on has kind of been a blessing in disguise.
“It’s given me a chance to catch up with family and friends, it’s been really nice.
“To be compared to Chris Hoy is flattering, it’s really nice.
“If I can get anywhere near to that level of success that would be incredible.”
Callum was 12 when he paid his first visit to the velodrome at Meadowbank.
As winter was approaching, the centre was just about to close for the year and he was asked to come back again in a few months. Keen to try cycling, he did return and months later joined The Racers.
After watching Chris Hoy on television, he instantly had a hero, and Callum wanted to be a part of the sport.
He quickly fell in love with cycling and, at the age of 17, moved to Manchester to become part of the Olympic development squad.
However, despite his incredible talent, he was rarely allowed to miss school to take part in competitions.
“There was an important balance between school and education,” he says.
“My mum always made sure I was still doing well at school.
“There wasn’t very many times I was allowed to skip it to go and do competitions.
“It was so important it was still a hobby at that time, I still had to go out with my friends and socialise. I wasn’t going out trying to be an Olympic champion at the age of 12.
“I think it’s important because it installed the love for the sport and that’s stayed with me today, and I was really keen to give something back.
“I won the British Youth Championships when I was 16 and then I kind of thought ‘I could be ok at this’.
“I broke Chris Hoy’s record at the same time. I was always quite modest about it, I think I still am today.”
Callum, who also made time to visit his granny while he was in Scotland, added: “My dad lives pretty close to Meadowbank so I just popped by the other day.
“Meadowbank is in a bit of a sorry state at the moment which is a bit sad, it has so much history and it’s such a fantastic venue. I have such fond memories of when it was looking a bit better.”