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Addicted to gold: Double act cannot get enough

THE BIG Yin was in the stands.

Neil Fachie and Craig MacLean en route to gold in the Para-sport 1000m time trial. Picture: Jamie Simpson
Neil Fachie and Craig MacLean en route to gold in the Para-sport 1000m time trial. Picture: Jamie Simpson

The Wee Man was on the floor. A triumph by a very special Scottish double act was watched by the great Glaswegian comedian. Billy Connolly was smiling at the end of the the final of the para-sport 1000 time trial B tandem. Neil Fachie was lying hunched on the track of the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.

One had watched the event. The other had suffered through it, legs pumping and lungs craving for air.

In tandem with the remarkable Craig MacLean, the Wee Man had both endured and enjoyed his biggest day. Fachie and MacLean suffer from the sort of acquisitive streak that means that every time they hear the national anthem they unconsciously feel for a medal around their necks.

In a time of astonishing sporting events in Glasgow, Fachie and MacLean offer an unalloyed golden story. The 30-year-old Aberdonian, who has a visual impairment, sits behind the 42-year-old from Grantown on Spey. Fachie is diminutive. MacLean has the sort of figure perfect for pulling ploughs.

They whizzed around the track at an average speed of about 36mph last night. This brought gold in a Commonwealth Games record time of 1.02.096 with Kieran Modra and Jason Niblett of Australia taking silver and Ellis Matthew and Ieuan Williams of Wales winning bronze.

"It was the hardest race of my life," said Fachie simply, but sincerely. MacLean talked of gasping for breath from the first turn of the wheel. It was yet another triumph for two sportsmen who can hear a medal ceremony in the distance and pedal furiously towards it.

MacLean, who will be 43 next week, is a winner as an individual and a pilot. He took silver in the team sprint at the 2000 Olympic, he won two gold medals in the 2011 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships with Fachie, and with Anthony Kappes took gold in the 2012 Paralympic Games.

MacLean also has won five world championship medals, including a gold in 2002. He also won a bronze medal in the team sprint at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, followed by a gold medal at the 2006 Games in Australia.

At London 2012, Fachie won gold in the men's individual 1km time trial and silver in the individual sprint, both with Barney Storey as his sighted pilot.

Yet last night was special for both. The two laps of honour were almost too much for Fachie who collapsed on to the track after he was peeled off the bike. As MacLean gently pedalled into the the centre of the arena where the teams were based, his young mate was helped to his feet, feeling the effects of both emotion and exhaustion.

He recovered to wave to a support that had roared for every moment of their ride to gold. "The crowd here is just absolutely stunning so we couldn't really fail to perform in that situation," said Fachie after he had recovered his composure.

"The celebrations were a reflection of the fact that we've worked really hard for this. That ride was possibly the most painful experience of both our lives, so we feel we deserved the medal."

He was clear that the events in the Sir Chris Hoy arena dwarfed Olympic gold. "It was a wee bit emotional," he said of his moment when he heard Flower of Scotland. "We've both stood at the top of the podium many a time. But to do it for Scotland in Scotland, it's something most athletes can never dream of. It's a moment we'll never forget. We were hurting badly by the end but the crowd kept us going.

"I'd say, in terms of the whole year, winning two world championship titles and now winning here, it's an even better year than 2012 - which was pretty phenomenal."

It is not over yet. Both come back for the sprint today. They were able finally to warm down properly about an hour after the race and MacLean was already targeting further success. "We'll be back on the track at nine tomorrow morning, racing at 11. So it's an early night, for sure."

MacLean has raced with the best, including a certain Scotsman who has a velodrome named after him. So were does he place Fachie in the pantheon?

"'From the numbers he puts out and the power he puts in, Neil is up there with any of the guys I've worked with over the years," he said. "If it wasn't for Neil's visual impairment, he would be an elite athlete in his own right."

MacLean, some 14 years on from Sydney silver, still has the bearing and power of a top sprinter. He has worked hard to land one gold at Glasgow 2014 and to put the partnership in contention for another today.

"Ultimately, I didn't want to let Neil down. I had to be in the best shape I could be," he said. "I wouldn't say this gives me any more or less satisfaction than any of my individual medals. It's just great to win it. It's as important to me as standing on any podium."

Fachie stood proudly beside his mate, admitting he had no idea that Connolly was in a crowd that had spurred the pair to victory. "I was only interested in what we did," he said somewhat apologetically.

This attitude brought gold yesterday. Who knows what will come today?

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