HAD the Paralympics gone ahead as planned last summer, in all likelihood Neil Fachie would now be relaxing into his retirement.
The 37-year-old has been at the top of para-cycling for well over a decade and had reached a point in his career where he was no longer enjoying the daily slog of training and so as a result, was fairly certain that last summer’s Paralympics would be his swansong.
However, Covid had other ideas and the postponement of the Paralympics meant Fachie’s plan, as was everyone’s, was duly scrapped.
However, rather than the extra year being of detriment to the Paralympic, world and Commonwealth champion, the postponement of the Games ended up transforming Fachie’s attitude to his sport.
“You have that love-hate relationship with competing – you hate the stresses that come with the competitions but then you get out there and you love it. And so not being able to race for so long made me realise how much I do enjoy it,” he says.
“Last year, I was really just ticking the boxes of what you need to do to go to the Games and win gold. There was no fun in it, it was just a process and I suffered for that.
“Had the Games happened last year, I possibly would have walked away. I wasn’t enjoying it and I wouldn’t have had another major event for a couple of years which is a long time.
“I wasn’t sure I’d have had the enthusiasm for it and it’s too hard it you’re not fully committed. So I probably would have walked away.”
Fachie, who suffers from a degenerative eye condition, was heading into last summer as a heavy favourite for gold in Tokyo.
The Aberdeenshire man and his pilot, Matt Fotheringham, had begun 2020 with a convincing victory in the kilo at the World Championships and were looking to replicate the performance in Tokyo with Fachie, who had won silver in the event at Rio 2016, looking to reclaim the title he won at London 2012.
The picture is far less clear this summer, however.
With no international competitions for over a year-and-a-half, it is impossible for Fachie to know what shape his competitors are in and if they have managed to close the gap.
Likely to be one of Fachie and Rotheringham’s closest challengers for gold are their GB teammates, James Ball and Scottish pilot Lewis Stewart but other than that, Fachie is heading to Tokyo uncertain of what exactly will be needed to claim kilo gold.
However, after an initial bout of apprehension over what the postponement would mean for his performance, one of his best years of his life in terms of training has left Fachie confident he will not be easy to beat in Tokyo.
“The year’s delay made me very nervous – I’m not getting younger after all – but I’m in better shape now than I was last year,” he says.
“Having said that, our rivals have had an extra year to catch up.
“I’m confident we’ll perform really well but am I confident of winning? I don’t think you can ever be entirely confident of that. In the kilo, you have to just do your best performance and if someone beats you well, what can you do?”
While the Scot refuses to make any grand predictions as to where the medals will end up, he is Tokyo for one reason and one reason only.
“You often hear athletes talk about focusing purely about the process and not the result but, for me, the outcome is such a motivator,” he says.
“If I didn’t think about winning gold, I don’t think that same motivation would be there. So I have thought about it and it’s something I’d love to do.
“I’m experienced enough to know that my life isn’t going to change drastically whether or not I win or lose so I want to make the most of the whole experience but really, I’m going there for gold and I’d be gutted if we didn’t win.”
Laura and Jason Kenny are the sweetheart couple of the Olympic cycling team and Fachie and his wife, Lora, an endurance rider, are the equivalent in GB’s para-cycling squad.
Between them, the couple has over 40 major championship medals, with the dream scenario being that another two golds will be added to the tally in Tokyo.
The pair race within minutes of each other which sounds far from conducive to peak performance but the pair are experienced enough that they are well used to blocking out the emotions of watching their other half race.
“The kilo final is about 10 minutes before Lora’s pursuit final so there’s not much space,” Fachie says.
“We had the same thing in Rio so I was going from gutted about my silver to delighted about her gold within 10 minutes so hopefully this time, we’ll be able to celebrate together.
“Really though, you just need to be selfish and a bit robotic about it which might sound bad but you need to be like that.
“It’s horrible watching – that’s much worse than competing because you can do nothing about it.”