Neil Fachie became the most decorated Scottish athlete in Commonwealth Games history on the opening night of Birmingham 2022, as he and pilot Lewis Stewart won Team Scotland’s first gold of the Games.
Opening the team’s gold medal count on the very first day of action, the pair followed Beth Potter, who won a fantastic triathlon bronze just over an hour earlier.
For Fachie though, this fifth Commonwealth gold takes him level with lawn bowler Alex Marshall as the most decorated Scot of all-time, whilst Stewart marked his debut for Team Scotland with a trip to the top step of the podium.
There was a second medal at the velodrome to cap a scintillating opening night – Aileen McGlynn, another of Team Scotland’s most decorated para-athletes, secured a splendid silver in the Women’s B Tandem Sprint alongside another debutant, Ellie Stone.
Back with the Men’s B Tandem 1000m Time Trial though, the competition was stiff, with the times getting quicker and quicker as the competition progressed. Fachie and Stewart, as defending champion was last to go, but just moments earlier the pair witnessed the Welsh pair break the Commonwealth Games record.
But commeth the hour, commeth the men, who with saltires across their chest, stepped up when it matter most. Two tenths down through the opening split, that gap had changed by halfway, but suddenly, finding another gear it started to come down, and with a lap to go, swung the other way.
At this point the volume went up another few decibels, and roared home, Fachie and Stewart left everything out there. Collapsing as they were helped from their bikes, it was clear they couldn’t have done any more.
With gold medals around their necks, and a Games record of 59.938 to boot, Fachie said:
“This is pretty special. It’s genuinely mind blowing. Eight years ago in Glasgow – I didn’t think I’d still be here. I’ve been ill all week so the preparation hasn’t been great – you can hear it from my voice – but I still had the legs. It’s thanks to this man on the front of the bike.
“Coming into that final lap you know it’s do or die. You can hear the crowd and I gave it everything I had. It really, really hurt, but it’s so worth it when you get to stand on the top of that podium.
Of becoming the joint most decorated Team Scotland athlete of all-time, he added:
“It’s something I was aware of before the champs and I wanted to do it for disability sport to put us on the map. I knew it would be a huge challenge but I was so relieved I had Lewis as a pilot – the guy is an absolute hero. He’s got a back problem and shouldn’t be on a bike right now and here he is winning gold medals for his country – it’s unreal.
“I’m just proud of the both of us because we really had to fight for that win, and fight hard.
“We knew a lot was on the line today, we were trying to get Neil to the most successful Scottish athlete ever, so we knew we had to get gold today. The crowd's just mental, I had goosebumps before I went up, I was just so motivated for it. All I was thinking about that last lap was absolutely just trying to get everything out of myself to get that gold.
“I knew it was close, as you can hear it in the crowd, it was building and I was like 'it was gonna be tight'. So I was just trying to put myself so far into the red as you've only got one chance, you don't want to be sitting there afterwards thinking you didn't go hard enough.”
The pair will go again on Sunday in the Men’s B Tandem Sprint, where Fachie has the chance to become outright most decorated, should be win a sixth gold.
For McGlynn and Stone, their final straddled the Men’s Tandem final, as they took on the Australian pairing who had swept all before them in qualifying. In truth, they made light work of bettering the Team Scotland duo in the opening head to head sprint, but perhaps inspired by their teammates gold, they upped their game for the second race.
It was another physical affair, with the two tandems side by side for the whole of the final lap, the Aussies just edging it on the line. That meant it was silver for the Scots, a valiant effort, especially given how new the partnership is.
On how it played out, and what it meant to win yet another medal, Aileen said:
“The final was hard and we knew we had to go out really hard against the Aussies as they are strong and quite jostly as well. We gave it everything we had but we just got beat on the line – but we gave it everything we had.”
“This might be my final one to be honest, as it’s getting harder! The knees are getting a bit sore in the gym but I’ve always felt I’ve been able to get a bit faster and maybe get that world record back. I’m definitely really competitive as well!
“But it’s a team effort – Ellie’s been fantastic, coming in at the last minute and piloting me – she’s done an amazing job. We've only been riding together for like 12 weeks. Ellie has never ridden a tandem before, never ridden tri bars. She done an amazing job, and I'm so grateful to her for getting me a silver medal.
"Aileen has got so much experience, which makes it so much easier to ride because she gives me all the tips and stuff, and I don't think I could have done it with anyone else"
Also in action on Friday night was the other Team Scotland female tandem, with athlete turned cyclist Libby Clegg teaming up with Jenny Holl in the bronze medal ride off.
Taking on the English pairing, the debutants knew they would face a stiff contest, having seem them push McGlynn and Stone extremely close earlier in the day. They weren’t going to give an inch though, the newcomers acquitting themselves exceptionally, as they both took on the sprint for the first time. In the end though their opposition were too good, but it was a valuable experience ahead of the kilo, which should play more to their strengths.
Afterwards Clegg commented:
“It’s my first ever track competition in cycling. It’s been a massive learning curve. I’m ever so proud and it’s been absolutely great here with Jenny, she’s taught me so much over the last couple of weeks. I’m so pleased to have had such a great partner.”
On how the velodrome differs from the track:
“It’s really weird, it’s similar but different at the same time. I love how the sound bounces off the boards. It’s so cool, it’s a very impressive place. I’m really excited for the kilo now.”
Tomorrow sees more Team Scotland medal chances, with the likes of Jack Carlin, Neah Evans and John Archibald all opening their accounts.
Full results can be found here