KATY Winton was not long on a bike before finding out how far she could travel. Even in her pre-teen years, it was obvious to her coaches that she could compete at the very highest level.
“I first got into the Scottish team when I was 11 or 12,” the mountain biker from Peebles recalls. “I sat down with the coach and he said to me: ‘You can go to the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics’.
“And as soon as he said that to me, I was like: ‘That’s what I’m going to do. That’s where I want to go’.”
Now 19, Winton has that first target, the 2014 Commonwealth Games, firmly in her sights. With 14 months still to go before final selection for the Scottish team, nothing is certain, but she is already close to the top of the national rankings.
So, barring injury, next summer should see her careering up and down Cathkin Braes, the Games course on the southern edge of Glasgow.
“I rode it for the first time two weeks ago and I was really impressed by what has been created,” she said. “It’s going to be incredible. It’s not finished yet, but what is there at the moment is what a mountain bike course is about.
“It’s relentless. It’s going to be a really hard one to race, but that’s what it’s about.
“In mountain biking you get overall body thrashing, basically, because you’re getting all the bumps. It’s attacking the whole body, rather than just your legs. You get so much impact on everything.”
If you’re not entirely sure what “overall body thrashing” means, a quick look at her blog (http://kinesismorvelo-katy-winton.posterous.com) will give you a good idea. The photos of her knee injury are not for the squeamish, but she insists that mountain biking is no more dangerous than other sports conducted at speed – and indeed, safer than some.
“It’s just part of the risk you take when you do it. For me, you don’t crash that often, really. You crash sometimes, but the majority of the time you’re pretty safe. You have to be pushing your limits all the time – you need to be fast everywhere on a mountain bike course. You can’t just be fast up the hills and wiggle your way down the descents, because you lose so much time doing that.
“That’s the only reason I go up a hill – to come back down, really. You just get on with it and you go fast. You go down and you get a wee cut, or you land on some grass.
“It looks dangerous, but actually when you compare mountain-bike injuries to the ones you get on the track or on the road where you’re travelling at such a high speed and falling on to concrete – that’s going to be bone-breaking. Whereas in mountain biking – most of the time, touch wood – I’ve just had cuts and bruises, and scratches and stuff. . . . and holes in my knees and things. But a lot less time being off the bike than if you’re in a cast.”
A full-time rider these days, she is reliant on the support of her team, the Kinesis-Morvelo Project, Sport Scotland, and above all her family. It was her father, David, who first took her mountain-biking, and perhaps more importantly showed her the never-say-die spirit required to thrive in it.
“My dad introduced me and my brother Andrew to it, because he loves it,” Katy recalled. “We used to do these weekends away. We were up in Laggan and it was tipping it down, like snow, and it was freezing and everything. But we didn’t think twice. We just thought ‘This is what normal people do’. We just went out and got on with it, riding our bikes. If you got cold, you got cold. I must have been about nine or ten.
“Andrew is younger than me and he doesn’t do too much biking. He hasn’t got the competitive edge the same as me. I got all of his competitive genes as well, so I got a double dosage.”
Since graduating to elite adult competition a couple of years ago, Winton has needed that attitude. Accustomed to winning everything as a junior, she has had to learn how to compete against far older and more experienced riders.
“When I was 12, then when I competed in the under-14s then the under-16s, I won every race. Over the past couple of years I’ve been in elite competition, and in your first seasons in that, you’re not winning. So it’s changing that mindset: how are you going to win your race rather than win the race? What can you get out of this race? What do you want to achieve? Where’s your weakness? Right, concentrate on that.
“I’m still a young athlete. I totally want to go for it. I’m heading there and I’m 100 per cent committed, but you have to be realistic.
“I know I’m not at the top of my game at the moment.
“But there’s no point in saying ‘I’ll wait until I’m better’. You’ve only got one chance ever to do a home Games – some people don’t even get that chance – so I’ve just to go for it. If I get there it will be amazing.”
The three distinct cycling disciplines – track, road and mountain biking – take place at three different venues.
Track: The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.
Opened late last year and named in honour of our most successful Olympian, the velodrome has a permanent capacity of 2,500, with another 2,000 added for the Games.
The road-race and time-trial events will take place across the city, offering an excellent chance for spectators to catch a free glimpse of the Games.
Mountain bike: Cathkin Braes.
The specially constructed trail on the south side of the city is jointly owned by Glasgow City and South Lanarkshire Councils. The first international-standard mountain-bike venue in the area, it is expected to attract top-class events for decades to come.
Scotland’s recent record in the Commonwealth Games:
Although Chris Hoy did not compete, Scots still enjoyed success on the road and the track. David Miller won gold in the individual time-trial on the road and bronze in the road race, while Jennie Davis and Charline Joiner took silver in the team sprint on the track.
Hoy, Craig MacLean and Ross Edgar (pictured, left) won the team sprint, Edgar took silver in the individual sprint, and there were four bronzes: Hoy in the kilo, Edgar in the keirin, Kate Cullen in the points race and James McCallum in the scratch race.
Hoy won the kilo, and also took bronze in the team sprint along with MacLean, Edgar and Marco Librizzi.
The Commonwealth Games Scotland website (www.cgcs.org.uk) provides a full list of every Scots medallist in the history of the Games, all the way back to Hamilton, Canada, in 1930.
• The official website of next year’s Games, www.glasgow2014.com, offers information about every sport and venue.