WHEN Callum Skinner, John Paul and Chris Pritchard lined up to compete in the team sprint at the 2010 Commonwealth Games it was the first time the trio of Scots had raced as a unit.

Beforehand there had been no dress rehearsals, no practising of starts or changes. Kudos to their tenacity, they managed to ride to a commendable fourth in the final standings behind Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.

With all respect to that accomplishment, this time around an altogether slicker Team Scotland track cycling sprint contingent can be expected to be in evidence with the strength and depth having come on leaps and bounds in recent years.

Among the leading medal hopes is Skinner, now four years older and a completely different animal to the one who made his Commonwealth Games debut in Delhi. He is the lone Scottish sprinter on the British Cycling Olympic Podium Programme in Manchester and has thrived among the highly competitive, world-class environment that sees the 21-year-old rub shoulders with the likes of London 2012 gold medallists Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes on a daily basis.

The Glasgow-born, Edinburgh-raised cyclist, who was the 2012 British national sprint champion, has already sized up his biggest rivals for the Games. "The Aussies and the Kiwis are certainly going to be strong," Skinner said. "I've got enough to keep myself busy down here looking at what everyone else is doing because England are certainly going to be one of the strongest teams to beat.

"The Aussies have been in Asia doing their preparations and the Kiwis were in America so it's quite difficult to get a feel for how everyone is going but I just need to focus on what I can do as much as possible."

That means ignoring the mind games that can often be played out through social media. "I think some athletes have been guilty in the past of looking at Twitter updates saying someone has done this time or that time when you really have no factual evidence to base that on other than 140 characters of a tweet," Skinner said. "I'm not going out there looking to see what everyone else is doing - I'm trying to go as fast as I can."

As things stand, the plan is for Skinner to compete in four events: sprint, team sprint, kilo and keirin. His flying 200m - the marker used for qualifying in the individual match sprint - is looking promising. "In terms of training wheels on spokes, it's the fastest it's ever been," he says. "Hopefully with some [race] wheels and the atmosphere of the Scottish crowd I should be able to squeeze a bit more out. I definitely feel a far stronger and faster athlete since the Revolution Series in the winter [when he set a PB of 10.004sec]. I can't wait to get started."

Skinner keeps his cards close to his chest when asked what discipline he feels offers his best medal hope. "You never know what the other nations are coming with," he said. "Personally the one I feel strongest in is the sprint. I won the British national title in 2012. I guess that is my favourite and the one I like to do but it is going to be tough from the word go.

"Only 12 qualify and most nations are putting forward three world-class riders. Simply to qualify will be hard and if you do make the first round that is going to be pretty tough too. I'm looking forward to it and hopefully grafting my way through to a decent level."

Skinner was inspired to take up track cycling aged 12 after watching Sir Chris Hoy win gold in the kilo at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Four years later, Skinner smashed the British national 200m record for his age category and was rewarded with a face-to-face meeting with his idol when he was presented with the inaugural Chris Hoy Trophy.

He joined British Cycling's Academy Programme in 2010, progressing through the ranks of the Talent Team and Olympic Development Programme. In April last year, Skinner was promoted to the Olympic Podium Programme with the goal of working towards Rio 2016.

Recent weeks have seen Skinner make the switch from his usual British Cycling set-up to integrate fully into the Team Scotland camp. As the Games draw closer he admits there has been some gentle ribbing creeping in among the home nations. "My flatmate [Kian Emadi] is English so there's been a bit of banter there," says Skinner. "When we were racing in Germany recently there was only one Scot, which was me, one Welshman [Lewis Oliva] and the whole of the English team. It's all very good natured and we can give as good as we get."

Already, he says, there is a strong camaraderie forged among the Team Scotland cyclists. "I think I made the right choice to go out to Majorca with the Scottish team earlier in the year," he says. "I know Bruce Croall, John Paul and Chris Pritchard quite well, but there are a few new faces in there too. The para-sport riders have joined us as well. Neil Fachie and Craig MacLean, like me, train in Manchester and are always up for a good laugh. I'm looking forward to having the whole team together and being able to focus on the job at hand."

A health scare in late 2011, which saw Skinner misdiagnosed with lymphoma after doctors discovered a lump on his neck, put paid to any hopes of making Team GB for the Olympics Games in London. "I do view Glasgow as a second bite at the cherry," Skinner said. "In essence it feels like it could be more special than London would have been because there is that extra affinity to the city. In my eyes I don't see it as second best to the Olympics. It's a fantastic opportunity to compete at a home Games."

Envisaging the cauldron-like atmosphere of noise, heat, excitement and fevered anticipation at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome when racing gets under way on Thursday, he says, is the stuff of goosebumps. "When I competed at the Revolution Series in Glasgow last year it made such a massive difference being in a Scottish jersey and having the majority Scottish crowd behind me," Skinner said. "Even spectating in London, you couldn't help but get drawn into the enthusiasm and spectacle of it all and hopefully Glasgow will have a similar atmosphere.

"Having the home crowd in that last 50m, when your opponent might be right next to you but you know the cheers are for you, it just gives you that little bit extra. It's an amazing feeling and so uplifting."

Skinner is aware of the burden of expectation which may come from the Scottish public looking for the next Hoy - who claimed four Commonwealth Games medals including team sprint gold with MacLean and Ross Edgar in 2006 - but experience has taught him that heaping too much pressure on himself will only hinder his performance.

"I've learned that I do my best racing when I'm cool, calm and relaxed," he says. "If you know you've put everything you can into training, then you can't really ask for much more. That is a big motivator and means when you do compete you don't have cold feet or wonder: 'Maybe I should have done this or that'. It gives you confidence."

Skinner has been working closely with British Cycling performance psychologist Dave Readle, who will himself be lining up as a tandem pilot for Northern Ireland at the Games.

"It will be nice to see him there," says Skinner. "He will be up against Neil Fachie and Craig MacLean in their events. Dave was a massive help to me through the cancer scare setback. I have so much respect for him and hope he does well."

As for Skinner's own ambitions, there is no doubting his determination and mettle. "I'm definitely aiming to get a medal of some colour," he says. "It's so difficult to pin results down because if, for example, the Kiwis are on their best form, it will make it quite difficult to get in there. I'm just going out to do the best I can. I think I'm in the best shape I've ever been so hopefully it should all come together."

Skinner is equally resolute when asked how he rates Scotland's chances in the team sprint compared to four years ago in Delhi. "It's night and day going into this Games," he said.

"The other thing that shows how far the team have progressed is that it's not just me, JP and Chris who are in contention; you also have Bruce Croall and Jonathan Biggin knocking at the door and fighting for positions. It's that competitiveness that will push us all forward. It should be a far more well oiled team than in Delhi."