Aussie cyclist back from brink for emotional Games glory

Kaarle McCulloch nearly quit cycling over a chronic injury.
AFP

Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) – Four years ago Australian cyclist Kaarle McCulloch missed the Commonwealth Games with a chronic injury that reduced her to tears, gobbled up her life savings and brought her to the brink of quitting.

On Saturday, she won the 500m time trial in front of an ecstatic home crowd for her third — and most satisfying — medal at the Games on the Gold Coast.

The 30-year-old trumped fellow Australian Stephanie Morton, who took silver, with Emma Cumming of New Zealand grabbing bronze.

It was a deeply personal triumph for McCulloch, who paraded around the track afterwards taking the acclaim of a capacity 4,000 crowd at the Anna Meares Velodrome, pumping her fists and blowing kisses.

McCulloch, for whom this was the biggest victory of her turbulent career, described how the pain she had been feeling in a knee for years suddenly exploded as she was on the track in January 2014.

“I did the warm-up and just came back off the track and burst into tears. I was sick of riding in pain, for five years I was getting on the bike and being in pain,” she said, after adding gold to the team sprint title and a bronze in the women’s sprint.

“I said to my coach at the time, ‘This is it, I can’t do this anymore.’”

She had chronic pain in a knee, but the problem was actually linked to her back and she took three months off, never getting on a bike and ruminating over her future, before her coach convinced her to carry on.

“I did rehab and got back on the bike and suddenly I was training without pain,” said McCulloch, who had tears welling in her eyes as she stood atop the podium, the Australian national anthem ringing out and her gold medal hanging around her neck.

She was not only back, she was faster, although being off the bike did mean that she missed the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

“I’ve just really taken off and feel like the best is still to come,” added McCulloch, who is now eyeing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics having watched Rio 2016 on the sidelines.

– ‘I want to be there’ –

McCulloch described how she spent 30,000 Australian dollars (US$23,000) on her rehabilitation — “I used up all of my life savings” — after losing her scholarship with Cycling Australia.

“I just thought to myself, ‘You know what? You just need to keep going until you feel like that’s it.’

“I was sitting in the stands in Rio and even though I didn’t get to race, I was sitting there thinking: I should be there, I want to be there.

“And it just motivated me and I’ve stuck with it.

“Sitting at home watching the guys at the 2014 Commonwealth Games hurt a lot, but tonight has made up for all of it.”

McCulloch’s was a sixth Games cycling gold for the hosts, resurgent after a disastrous Olympics, and Sam Welsford quickly won number seven in the 15km scratch race.

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