When Jack Carlin enters the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome arena in Glasgow to start his European Championships campaign today his eyes will be drawn to the stands. Not just to locate the army of friends and family there to support him but also, perhaps, to reflect on the fact that was where he was four years ago.
The Paisley 21-year-old was in the crowd, aged 17, watching the Commonwealth Games dreaming of a future in the sport and now finds himself back there out on the boards in a major championships as a key cog in the formidable Great Britain sprint team.
“I was still a junior back then. I was sitting in the stands, watching everyone competing at Glasgow 2014 and I kind of thought to myself ‘that is where I want to be one day’,” said Carlin. “I did race in Glasgow two years ago in the World Cup, and the atmosphere there was phenomenal.”
Back in 2014, Carlin was a promising talent with the Glasgow Riders club. He had got into the sport after using cycling as part of his rehab from ankle injuries suffered while playing football. His rise has been rapid, with a raft of Under-23 medals the precursor to him forcing his way into the senior British sprint team, who will go for gold throughout today.
One silver at the Europeans in 2017 and two at the 2018 world championships were followed by yet another in Scottish colours at the Commonwealth Games in Australia earlier this year.
Carlin’s progress has attracted glowing praise from the man whose name adorns the velodrome, with Hoy predicting a big future for his young compatriot.
“It’s huge,” said Carlin. “Obviously Chris was a role model of mine when I started cycling and especially when I moved into the sprint side of things.
“He was ‘The Boy’ and still is the best known track cyclist out there. Hearing those words gives you a certain boost and confidence.
“What Chris and Jason [Kenny] have done for sprinting and track cycling is going to be a really hard thing to follow. You don’t get too far ahead of yourself, just keep focused on the training and the racing that’s coming and see where it goes.”
The return of six-time Olympic champion Kenny is a challenge, on the individual side, which Carlin welcomes. “I will hopefully be holding up the British challenge for the individual sprint but first there is the team sprint, that will give me a marker to see how it goes,” said the Scot. “That will show me where I am and how I am going to be for the rest of the competition.
“We have got such strength and depth at the moment that anyone can make that step up and it is still all to play for, two years out from Tokyo. This is the first Olympic qualification, which is obviously the main aim. That is what will give us a good idea of a basis and what we can all build upon for the next two years.”
The individual sprint medals at the worlds and Commonwealths have given Carlin a surge in confidence as he views this event in Glasgow as the start of his push to Tokyo. “This year has been quite a big turnaround for me,” he explained.
“Going from man one in the team sprint to bill myself more as an all-around sprinter, so the individual stuff is obviously stepped up massively. That was an unexpected step up.
“I am definitely more confident now in my individual skills than I used to be, I’m probably going into this event more confident than I have ever been in prior events.”
Carlin lost his Gold Coast final to Kiwi great Sam Webster and said that these championships, while not containing the power of the Australians and New Zealanders, is not short of threats across the field.
“It is all to play for,” he said. “There is the Dutch team, the French team, the German team. A massive group of boys and it is all so close, within hundredths of a second between the first eight in the qualifying.
“Europe is very strong, you are only really missing the Australians and the Kiwis when it comes to this. If you do well here you are setting yourself up well for the rest of the season.”
And what about that potential rivalry with 30-year-old Kenny who, after emerging from Hoy’s shadow, now finds another Scot snapping at his heels from the other end of the age spectrum?
“Hopefully, if all the qualification goes well, there would be two spots going towards the Olympics,” said Carlin. “But at the end of the day you are team-mates, you are rivals, but first things first is always the team sprint, if you do well in that it sets you up well for the rest of the competition.”