2021 Paralympics: Neil Fachie ready to make amends - and this won't be his last hurrah

Neil Fachie has a long memory. The date of September 11 has stuck like a leech. 2016, the day of the one-kilometre time trial at Rio’s Paralympics when the Aberdonian marched into the velodrome as the reigning champion and shuffled out dethroned.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14: Neil Fachie MBE and his pilot Matt Rotherham of Great Britain celebrate with the crowd after finishing the Mixed Para B Sprint Semifinals during day One of the 2018 TISSOT UCI Track Cycling World Cup at Lee Valley Velopark Velodrome on December 14, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Second place, no silver lining. By less than 1.5 seconds, the size of the margin inverse to the degree of irritation. It still festers, five years on, as Tokyo prepares to declare its pandemic-delayed Games under way on Tuesday and Fachie readies himself to right his personal wrong in tandem – or on one, to be precise – with his pilot Matt Rotherham.

“I'd love to say that was the motivation all the way,” the 37-year-old visually-impaired athlete affirms ahead of his fourth Paralympics. “But after that event, a few months later, I lost my world titles as well. And I wondered if that was the beginning of the end of the road, that the career was coming to an end.

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“You're in your thirties and you get asked that question a lot. Is this the end? I managed to pick myself back up, and it's very much been a motivation since then. That's a title I feel like I should have won. It didn't quite happen on that day. But we've got a great opportunity now. And we certainly have shown the world since then what we're capable of.”

Restored as world champions, as world holders too. Fachie with his lustre regained and motivation replenished ahead of a double tilt in Japan that will include the individual pursuit, an event he acknowledges as a mere throwaway before then the kilo, his Holy Grail.

There have been immense learnings from these grand tours, from a modest athletics career that took him to Beijing in 2008 before a fortuitous pivot to two wheels that earned him a gold and silver at London 2012, plus 14 world titles on top.

Nuggets that he channelled last year into a book – Earn Your Stripes – that distilled the insights from his ups and occasional downs, deployed to engage and enthuse the corporate world.

“Really, once you get to this level, the game becomes so much about mindset and performing in that high-pressure situation,” he declares. “As athletes, we absolutely love that moment. But we also hate it as well. You know, the run-up to a major competition is incredibly stressful. But the joy and exhilaration of actually competing in it is huge. And it's down to you to deliver.”

He trusts that will be within his reach in Tokyo, where his wife Lora will also pedal for gold. Not his last Paralympics, he guarantees. Paris 2024, one year closer thanks to Covid. Tempting him to pursue a further coronation at age 40. “We've got Commonwealth Games just a year away. There's the cycling world championships in Glasgow in 2023, which is pretty appealing. Then you're just one year away from the next Games. Things are going well. So I'm keen to go further.”

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