Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) – Not even cycling aficionados had heard of Charlie Tanfield a year ago, but now the young Englishman is a Commonwealth Games champion with long-standing world record in his sights.
The 21-year-old mechanical engineering student, still technically an amateur, somehow escaped the attention of British cycling chiefs until very recently — but he can be ignored no longer.
Tanfield stormed to victory in the final of the 4,000m individual pursuit at the Anna Meares Velodrome in Brisbane on Friday, adding gold to the team pursuit silver he picked up 24 hours earlier.
Coming into the Games on Australia’s Gold Coast, Tanfield boldly said he was chasing the world record time of 4mins 10.534sec set by Australia’s Jack Bobridge in 2011.
He did not quite beat that, but he still clocked one of the fastest times in history and broke the Commonwealth record with his lightning 4:11.455.
It was no fluke.
Tanfield announced himself to a wider audience just a few weeks earlier when he made his debut for Britain at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Apeldoorn, in the Netherlands.
Tanfield was part of the team that triumphed in the team pursuit and he narrowly missed out on a podium place with fourth in the individual class.
Tanfield’s fairytale rise to the higher echelons of cycling — and his carefree manner — is just the kind of feel-good story that cycling, so often mired in doping controversies, needs.
He celebrated Commonwealth gold in front of photographers by playfully sticking out his tongue and embraced his mother, who was watching in the stands.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Tanfield, whose 23-year-old brother Harry is in England’s road cycling team.
“Two years ago when I went to nationals and it was my first time riding track since I was about 15, 16, my ultimate goal was to get to the Commonwealth Games — and I think I’ve achieved a bit more than that.”
– Budget bike team –
Tanfield, who only turned full-time two months ago, putting university lectures on hold, says he enjoys the “geeky” side of cycling because of his mechanical engineering background.
But it would be an exaggeration to say that he was always destined for medal glory.
As a junior he lost interest in the sport, before getting his taste back for it, but it was the formation of his Team KGF that helped propel him to where he is now.
The startling success of KGF — outsiders compared to the deep pockets of the centralised British Cycling programme — was one of the cycling stories of 2017 and made the top figures in the sport in Britain take notice.
On the back of two months’ track training, the amateur side on a budget excelled at the British championships that year.
They carried that into Minsk in January this year, when Tanfield took World Cup individual pursuit gold and they also won team gold.
Their against-the-odds heroics are now being made into a documentary.
“Results just keep on coming and it’s good to keep proving myself on the world stage,” said Tanfield.