CALLUM SKINNER has never been one to simply coast along. It is not surprising to learn, then, that even while in lockdown the former Olympic champion cyclist has been keeping himself busy.

“What have I been doing? Starting a coffee company, starting a glasses company, various other things. Once I had retired I just thought, “don’t turn down opportunities” and so my CV is a bit all over the shop at the moment.

“From sports marketing manager, to head of product safety, to entrepreneur, to doing bits and pieces for the radio and hosting a podcast. It’s just a bit of a melting pot at the moment but it’s really good fun.”

Skinner has had more time to get involved in these diverse pursuits after taking the decision to retire from elite sport last year.

Instead of preparing to add to the gold and silver medals he won in Rio in 2016, the Glasgow-born, Edinburgh-raised athlete chose to call it a day.

After almost a decade inside the British Cycling system and having struggled at times with his mental health, he is enjoying the freedom of getting his life back again.

The 27 year-old, though, thinks it shouldn’t have to be a choice. And, if anything, he believes broadening an athlete’s horizons could actually help their sporting prowess, rather than hinder it.

“When I first joined the [British Cycling] team I also had an opportunity to go to university,” he revealed.

“But it was made clear to me early on that it wasn’t a case of doing both. There was a choice: go to university or join the programme. It was that black and white. It’s softened a little bit now but it’s still often down to the coach’s personal approach.

“Some – like the sprint coach Kevin Stewart – are good at encouraging athletes to have Open University courses on the go or to take up hobbies. Just something to take your mind off what is an extremely stressful pursuit being an athlete.

“It’s a misconception that you have to put all your eggs into one basket. I don’t like using the term “institutionalised” but I would say athletes are definitely quite conditioned like that.

“A balanced lifestyle creates more longevity and possibly more success in the majority of athletes. The people who are the best at doing their jobs are usually the ones who are least afraid of losing it.

“If you’ve got that back-up [of a second career option] you’ll take more risks, stick your neck on the line and get better results. Having a bit of balance gives you the freedom to become a better athlete.”

The pursuit of success inside the system can be all-consuming, with athletes trained to focus only on achieving those oft-referenced marginal gains. Only when he temporarily stepped outside of that bubble to see what life was like in the real world did Skinner find the contentment to continue as a cyclist. Without that he may not have continued long enough to enjoy later Commonwealth and Olympic success.

“You have to pretty much devote yourself to the task in hand,” he admits. “I remember when I first thought about retiring when my career wasn’t going that well in 2013. I applied to become a pilot with British Airways and was accepted onto their programme.

“That gave me the security that I was looking for that I had some worth outside of sport. After hearing that I decided to push on with cycling and left that opportunity [to become a pilot] behind. And it turned out okay, I guess.”

Skinner is encouraged to see an upsurge in recreational cycling as a result of quieter roads during lockdown. It is to that backdrop that he and business partner Alex Macdonald have launched a project to bring innovative rear-view sunglasses for both casual and elite cyclists to the market. Their firm HindSight is now looking to secure £30,000 of additional funding via a Kickstarter campaign.

“It’s amazing to see more people taking the chance to get out on their bikes during this lockdown period,” he added. “It’s just great to see people discovering that freedom again especially with fewer cars on the road.

“This is why we decided to go ahead and launch HindSight just now. We can see that one of the biggest barriers for people cycling on the road is a fear of cars. This product gives them heightened awareness to help them feel more comfortable because they can see behind them.

“From a performance

perspective, when I was

racing in a match sprint I could spend up to 50 per cent of that time looking behind me. You can see in the Tour de France that opponent awareness is huge. So this is a product that will also help with that.”