Cyclist John Archibald stepping out of sister Katie's shadow

Having worked hard to make a name for himself in the cycling world, John Archibald would be forgiven a growing irritation at constantly being introduced as 'Katie's brother'.

John and Katie Archibald are heading to Gold Coast. Picture: Jeff Holmes
John and Katie Archibald are heading to Gold Coast. Picture: Jeff Holmes

All morning he and his younger sister have been paraded around the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, in Glasgow, conducting one interview after another, as they look ahead to the Commonwealth Games, which are now looming large.

While others in the cycling team are talking up their own careers, focusing on the path to the top and dreams realised, a large chunk of John’s time is spent answering questions about his Olympic and world champion sister and an upbringing that somehow instilled in both of them the will and the ability to make it in the world of elite level cycling.

“It is interesting to see how people introduce me – as John or as Katie’s brother. I am trying to develop my own name but it’s not tiresome at all. It is quite an honour to be related to Katie, there’s nothing bad you can say about her. Doing all these interviews has kind of highlighted how special that relationship is. It has been good.”

Nothing bad? Nothing at all? No matter how close the bond, very few siblings would go that far. At least not publicly. So, is he sure he has nothing darker to divulge? “I daren’t. I will suffer more for it!” he laughs.

But, while there is a rich hinterland of pranks, as happily outlined by his sister, and competitiveness, the normal familial rivalry has diluted over time. Or so he thought.

“We both followed a path into swimming as a start point and at that point we were competitive with each other. If I was doing something then Katie wanted to be doing it too. That has probably dragged her on quite a long way but now that we are older it has mellowed quite a bit and it is more supportive than any real rivalry. But maybe that’s because if it was a rivalry then I would lose hands down because she is on a different level at the moment. So the relationship is more inspirational.

“It is crazy. I rarely ever race her, that is until Monday. We were on the track and she took me by total surprise and just dropped me at the first one and I thought ‘this can’t be happening to me, I have got to get my act together’ so it ended up in full effort sprints and me trying to get the best of my sister!”

Whether he did or not depends on who is telling the tale. “Well, I will say I did and she will say what she says!” offers the 26-year-old from Milngavie, who, like his sister, will compete on both track and road at his maiden Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast next month.

But there is a real pride when he talks about his wee sister. A gold medallist at the British National Championships earlier this year, he is proud of his achievements on two wheels but knows they pale when compared to the baubles Katie, 24, has amassed. Those were earned with Olympic, World and European Championship victories, and she has also been awarded the MBE.

She is one of several medal prospects among the Team Scotland cyclists, and John admits that having her there when he makes his own bid for glory in Australia will be a benefit. At the National Championships, they roared each other to a place on the podium and as he heads to his first major, multi-sport event he knows he can always tap into her expertise.

“It definitely makes a difference and it is not something I had ever had before,” he explains. “It was the first competition where we had actually been to together and it was nice to hear her encouragement and there was a realisation during the race where I thought ‘hold on, this is what it means to everyone else’.

“I wouldn’t say we have a needy relationship. I don’t always need reassurance from her in everything I’m doing. I have a set-up where Scottish Cycling are very involved and I am learning at my own progression rate, which has been accelerated recently because I have so little time until the Games and so little experience. But it is great to have Katie there and, if I need advice, I know I can get it from her.”

Part of the British Cycling set-up, Katie is based in Manchester, while John still works in his dad’s bed shop and describes cycling as a hobby – the next few weeks will be the most time they have spent in each other’s company in several years.

“But I think we are both people who like our own space, so I won’t always be hassling her and she won’t always be hassling me. She said earlier that we can sit next to each other on the bus and not feel the need to talk because we are comfortable in each other’s company and that is a nice thing to have.”

A name in his own right on the Scottish cycling scene, John has renown even further afield as “the big brother”. It means there will be less chance of slipping under the radar, with opponents wary of his pedigree and spectators expecting him to live up to the family name. He is unperturbed.

“It is not something I think about because no matter how much pressure I have on me, Katie has a whole lot more. Every race she goes into she is going to have a target on her back. It is a nice thing to be linked to Katie, there is no negative to it, it is a nice thing to have.

“For me, watching Katie is simply watching sport as a fan. It wasn’t something that drove me to chase after those same goals. What, for me, drove things was the success I enjoyed on the Scottish scene. That’s when I started to see the Commonwealth Games as a possibility. I remember thinking ‘I could qualify for that’. There was that realisation that going to the Gold Coast was something that was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”