LOCKDOWN produced a mix of emotions for almost everyone in Britain, and Jack Carlin was no different. 

During the summer months, Britain’s top male track sprinter experienced surges of extreme motivation, as well as periods when his drive was nowhere to be found. But there was one real positive to emerge for the Paisley man: he rediscovered his love for the sport he has spent his entire adult life immersed in. 

Carlin may still be only 23-years-old, but already he has established himself as the best track sprinter in the country. A lynchpin of GB’s sprint team over the past few years, Carlin had, he admits, been caught up in the high-pressure environment that being one of the best riders in the world brings. But with velodrome suddenly closing their doors as a result of the pandemic, Carlin was forced to go back to his roots, riding his bike in the great outdoors in an effort to maintain his fitness. And, he admits, he loved it. 

“During lockdown, we obviously couldn’t train in the velodrome so I went out on the road bike or the mountain bike and it was great because instead of feeling like it was my job, it felt like fun,” he said. “It made me fall back in love with riding my bike, which is something I’d lost a little bit in the last couple of years with the pressure and the focus you have on you.” 

Carlin had been in good form prior to Covid-19 reaching Europe. In the few weeks before lockdown, the sprinter had travelled to Berlin for the World Championships where he added a silver medal in the team sprint, alongside Jason Kenny and Ryan Owens, to his already impressive haul of silverware, as well as a fourth-place finish in the keirin. 

It looked, then, like things were boding well for Tokyo 2020, where Carlin was set to make his Olympic debut. The postponement of the Games could have been a crushing blow to the Scot but, instead, Carlin was able to see the silver lining. “I’m still young so another year to train isn’t a bad thing for me,” he said. 

“And for the team sprint, it’s a good thing too. We’re trialling different things like new tactics and new ideas which we probably wouldn’t have been able to do if the Olympics had gone ahead this summer. But now we’ve got a bit more time, we can do that kind of thing.” Carlin made the most of the early part of lockdown. 

He is based in Manchester, near the British Cycling headquarters, and so he scrambled together some gym equipment which he and one of his flatmates, fellow sprinter Joe Trueman, used wisely, with Carlin believing he was in the shape of his life when the velodrome reopened its doors to the national team at the end of June. However, perhaps unexpectedly, it was when he returned to the track he felt his motivation begin to wane. 

“It was weird – when we got back into the velodrome, I felt like ‘well, that’s me doing the same thing for another year now’. It’s not only the build-up to the Olympics but we all have time off after a Games and so I had stuff planned with family and friends and obviously all of that goes down the drain. Everything you had planned was suddenly gone. I know that there’s a lot of people in a much worse position than I am though, so the Olympics being postponed by a year isn’t the end of the world. You need to keep things in perspective – I’m just riding round in a circle, I’m not out there saving lives or anything. 

“Sport is very selfish in that I’m still young so another year to train isn’t bad for me sense – you’re in your little bubble and you need to be like that, but you also have to keep your perspective. But when I got back on the track, I just felt a bit lethargic. Physically and mentally, I was just plodding along. It didn’t last too long though, only a few weeks. I’m normally pretty positive at training and I love what I do so that helps.” 

Carlin and his fellow riders in the team sprint are not travelling to November’s European Championships in Bulgaria and so while the prospect of not racing for almost a year is a tad daunting, it has also given Carlin the breathing space to focus on the real goal of Tokyo next summer. “What’s nice at the moment is you don’t quite need to be at full gas constantly,” he added. “We’re training hard but you don’t have to be on it all the time. Things like your body fat percentage doesn’t need to be quite as tight so you can go out for a beer now and then and relax a little bit. It’s more mentally than physically tough at the moment.”