Braveheart Fund put Callum Skinner on road to success

When he was 16, Chris Hoy wrote his goals on a piece of paper that his coach, Ray Harris, kept. Then, when Hoy became Olympic champion in 2004, Harris produced the evidence and pointed to what his star pupil had written in the long-term goal column: 'Olympic gold medal.'

Callum Skinner won two medals at the Rio Games, with silver in the sprint as well as gold in the team sprint. Photograph: Greg Baker/Getty Images
Callum Skinner won two medals at the Rio Games, with silver in the sprint as well as gold in the team sprint. Photograph: Greg Baker/Getty Images

Now there are another two Scottish cyclists with Olympic gold medals: Callum Skinner, with silver in the sprint as well as gold in the team sprint, and Katie Archibald, a member of the winning team pursuit squad. Skinner, a sprinter like Hoy, has inevitably been compared to the six-time gold medallist – whose victory in Athens, on Skinner’s 12th birthday, inspired the youngster to try track cycling – but the similarities extend beyond their shared discipline.

In 2008, Skinner also committed his goals to paper in an application to the Braveheart Fund, which gives financial support to promising young Scottish riders. It didn’t start too promisingly: “Sorry for the lateness of this application I have constant trouble with my computer.”

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The 16-year-old continued: “I have been track cycling for 3 coming on 4 years now the first two were the early days of getting experience and having [a] laugh although this last season I stepped it up to compete at a national level. This past season i competed at the British championships down in Newport for the first time being at the bottom of my age group this seemed like a daunting task although I still managed to pull out a 4th in the sprint I was the highest placed non talent team rider at that time. Since then I have been accepted onto the Scottish Cycling Talent Team and the British Talent Team Sprint Squad. This has gained me a number of advantages that I didn’t have previously for example having a detailed structured training program by Marco Librizzi, the continued helpful advice of Allister Watson and track time through the winter as I am down in Manchester every other weekend now.”

Under ‘Ambitions,’ Skinner said his long-term aim was to be accepted on to British Cycling’s Olympic Development Programme, and “I would like to go to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and represent Scotland and the subsequent Olympics in 2016 to represent the UK.” In fact, he was ahead of schedule, representing Scotland at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

The funding he was seeking, wrote Skinner, was “to buy my own equipment (gears, tools, wheels...) so as to become less dependent on equipment loans from the club. I would particularly use the funding for the trip to the nationals next year where it is rider funded and is over a number of days in Newport.”

Skinner received financial assistance from 2008 until last year, when he wrote to Alan Miller, who helps run the Braveheart Fund, to decline any help because he felt it should go to younger riders. Archibald, whose rise was so meteoric that she was only funded for a year, did the same. “Both Katie and Callum turned down funding voluntarily,” says Miller.

The fund was started in 2003 and, over 14 years, has distributed over £500,000 to promising young Scottish cyclists. “We’re talking typically £1,000 to £2,000 – the most we’ve given to one rider in a year is £5,000,” says Miller. “It’s modest help that helps fill a gap. The people who deserve the real credit are people like Allister Watson [who runs Skinner’s first club, The Racers] and Marco Librizzi [a former rider and Skinner’s first coach]. They’re the people who give up their time to support the riders.”

The centrepiece of Braveheart’s fundraising efforts is a dinner and ride in Ayrshire at the end of October. Miller points out that none of the dinner guests is paid a penny to attend, yet that hasn’t stopped Hoy, the fund’s original patron, coming “five or six times”.

Bradley Wiggins was at the 2009 dinner and, in the auction, paid £2,500 for a jersey signed by Robert Millar. Who knows, that might have covered Skinner’s grant the following year, as he set out along a road that would lead, seven years later, and as a member of the same British team as Wiggins, to Olympic glory.

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