IT shouldn’t work, really. But it does, and, most importantly, it worked yesterday, to stunning, golden effect. The little and large combination of Neil Fachie and Craig MacLean powered Scotland to a first track cycling gold medal in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.
The latest Scottish heroes of these games could not look any more different to one another. Fachie is shaven-headed and diminutive. MacLean is bearded and burly – or at least burlier than he was when he set out on his cycling career, in the mid-1990s.
Somehow Fachie, 30, known as the Power Monkey because to his spry demeanour and inner strength, can keep up with his pilot. Somehow the unlikely pair combined to triumph in the para-cycling 1000m tandem trial after clocking a time of 1.02.096. It is the first time this event has been staged at the Commonwealth Games and the fact they should come out on top at a Glasgow-hosted tournament made it all the sweeter for the partially-sighted Fachie, as well as the experienced MacLean.
Together they have already won the kilo and sprint events at the 2011 world championships in Italy. But Fachie has raced with different partners at the London Olympics and this year’s world championships. The need to keep it Scottish for the Commonwealth Games saw him reunite with MacLean and yesterday’s triumph was the glorious result.
Watched by comedian Billy Connolly, Fachie dismounted from his bike at the end and immediately fell to his knees on to the pine. He had literally been brought low by a mixture of exhaustion, relief and joy.
Fachie and 42-year-old MacLean were faster than silver medallists Kieran Modra and Jason Niblett by just 0.148 of a second. Every ounce of effort they put in counted. The Welsh pair of Matt Ellis and Ieuan Williams finished third to win bronze.
For Scots in the arena, it formed the moment of the day as Fachie and MacLean clambered to the top of the podium watched by Kate Archibald, amongst others. The 20 year-old from Milngavie was preparing to set out in an attempt to win bronze in the women’s 3000m individual pursuit event.
Having posted a Scottish record time to qualify for the chance to win bronze, she could not get quite close enough to this earlier time, clocking 3.37.078. Had she posted her heat time of 3.33.536, she would have won a bronze, but this went instead to Australia’s Amy Cure. England’s Joanna Rowsell earned the gold medal in a time of 3.31.615.
It was MacLean and Fachie who caught the imagination. They do have something in common in that they are both natives of the north of Scotland; Fachie hails from Aberdeen, and MacLean is from Grantown-on-Spey, where he can boast of a leisure centre that was named in his honour as long ago as 2007. It’s one he already has over his old friend Hoy, and now he can tease his former team-mate – they won Olympic silver together as long as 2000 in Sydney, in the team sprint – by reminding him about something else: ever won a gold medal in your own velodrome, buddy?
While Fachie and his pilot might hail from the same part of the country, MacLean’s own thighs are so wide they could occupy different postal codes to one another. They simply help add to the physical contrast between them, something that was further highlighted as they stood together on the podium, blinking back tears in Fachie’s case. He has already won a fistful of titles, including gold at the one kilometre time trial in London two years ago.
This, though, was special, he later stressed. “The crowd here is just absolutely stunning and I’m sure we’ve got a lot of people watching on TV as well, so we couldn’t really fail to perform in that situation. The celebrations were a reflection of the fact that we’ve worked really hard for this.
“It was a wee bit emotional,” he added. “We’ve both stood at the top of the podium many a time. But to do it for Scotland in Scotland, it’s something most athletes can never dream of. It’s a moment we’ll never forget.
“The crowd at the Paralympics [in London] was slightly bigger, but this lot made just as much noise. If they hadn’t been cheering us on like that in the final lap, I’m not sure we would have made it. We were hurting badly by the end but the crowd us going. I can’t thank them enough. I’d say, in terms of the whole year, winning two world championship titles and now winning here, it’s even a better year than 2012 – which was pretty phenomenal.”
MacLean agreed that the ride was one of the most painful of his life. “We feel we deserved the medal,” he said. Fachie, he added, was one of the finest athletes he has worked with – able-bodied or otherwise. Knowing how MacLean has spent time with some of the best riders in the game, his words carry extra weight. “From the numbers he puts out and the power he puts in, Neil is up there with any of the guys I’ve worked with over the years,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Neil’s visual impairment, he would be an elite athlete in his own right.
“There isn’t always a direct correlation between what they do in the lab and what they can do in the track. But I think Neil would be a real elite rider.
“We met by accident,” he added. “Neil was down in Manchester trying out the track and we bumped into each other. I had moved over to be a tandem pilot, so it was a stroke of luck. Maybe fate.”
It was more than just fate yesterday, however. It was hard, hard graft. Not that there is the opportunity for a rest. They go again today, in the kilo event. “We’ll be back on the track at nine in the morning, racing at 11,” noted MacLean. “So it’s an early night, for sure.”