Sunday, December 5, 2021
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James McCallum – Commonwealth Games Medallist

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Here at VeloVeritas we think that Scotland’s great performances at the Commonwealth Games Velodrome didn’t get the attention they merited. In order to set things right we decided to catch up with as many of our medallists as we could and learn a bit more about them and their medal-winning rides. James McCallum came back with a bronze medal from the 20 Kilometer Scratch, making a mockery of those who felt he wasn’t worthy of selection.

James is 27 (26 when he won his medal), lives in Edinburgh, but was born in Uddingston. He works as a nurse on constant night shift and before his Games Bronze, his main achievements were winning every Scottish track championship except the sprint. Bronze in the British team pursuit championship and Silver (only one point off the gold) in the British Omnium championship.

First I asked if he enjoyed his training?

“Yeah, but it depends on what type of work I’m doing. I think that people have the wrong impression about track training. In the winter I train just like a road rider with loads of miles. Last winter was good. I did a lot of training with Evan Oliphant; he’s a good guy to go out with — very laid back and he doesn’t have an ego. I train in blocks of around three to four weeks, as the season approaches. The blocks of training become more specific to the track. I do as much track work as I can at Meadowbank and Evan and I were even traveling down to Manchester to ride the league down there.”

What about the big-day?

“It was quite a simple race, once you figured-out the combines. Evan and I had agreed that we would help each other; Evan went straight from the gun, but Ben Kersten ( Australia, one of the prerace favourites who had already won the kilometer title) was in the move and it wasn’t allowed to go. Initially I didn’t realise I was in a move; we were half a lap up before I knew it and then we were a lap up.

“I was a bit panicky to start with because I was thinking that there would be counter-moves and other guys would take laps. Then Evan and I figured-out that England, Isle of Man and Wales were all working for Cav (eventual winner Mark Cavendish, Isle of Man). Evan was brilliant, closing gaps and slowing people down where he had to.

“With 30 laps to go I started to feel confident and from there on I was thinking about positioning myself. It was a very physical race at the end and in the finale it was lined-out and there was a lot of head-butting going-on. All of a sudden Kirsten, whose wheel I was on, eased-up just a little. I got round him and I could see I was in the bronze position, I just thought that I hadn’t come this far to not get the medal.

“On the last lap I was moving around a bit to dissuade any one from trying to come around me. After I crossed the line I couldn’t believe it, I grabbed a saltire and wrapped myself in it. My family and my girl were all there; it was probably the proudest moment of my life.”

Has life changed since the medal?

“It was hectic when I got back, dinners, presenting prizes, TV appearances, but no big sponsor materialised, although I have received help from a lot of people since. The Bicycleworks, Felt frames, Adidas, Eye wear, ISO energy food and Spaceclinics.com have all given me help and I would like to thank them. My employers, Advantage Health Care have provided financial support and so has the Braveheart Fund, equipment is great but you need cash to pay the bills and I’m very grateful to both organisations.”

James McCallum
James at the Scottish Criterium Championships.

When you race now, do you feel you have something to live up to?

“Of course, as a Commonwealth Games medallist you feel you have to win.”

Has it been hard keeping motivation after the Games?

“My morale was sky-high when I came back but it’s maybe waning a wee bit now; it’s been pretty much full-on since last October. I feel I could do with a holiday but I’ve got a lot of important races coming-up.”

What about goals?

“Immediate goals are the British Omnium champs; I’ve been second and had two fourth places, so it’s about time I won it. Then it’s the Scottish track champs and then the Glasgow Grand Prix on the eve of the Tour of Britain.”

What about a pro career?

“If it came along, sure. I play the team role very well, I think. Evan said that I had been a huge help to him in the races we rode together in Australia over the winter.”

What about the ‘letter affair’?

“I haven’t seen it [a letter written by a fellow Scot], but the gist of it was that I shouldn’t be going to the Games because my qualifying times had been ‘doctored’ by team officials. I spoke to the man that signed it and told him that all I wanted was an apology; he gave me one, so that’s it as far as I’m concerned.”

It’s hard to argue with medals… All the best in the Omnium, James.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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