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5 Minutes with Kaarle McCulloch

Catch up with the Australian Olympic track cyclist in advance of the Tokyo Games!

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In collaboration with Voxwomen, we talked with World, Oceania and Australian champion on the track, Kaarle McCulloch. Initially a talented runner, she quickly rose through the ranks in track cycling, and this year is aiming to add an Olympic gold medal to her series of victories on the track. Get to know her a little better in our latest interview.

Where are you from?

I am from Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Where do you live now?

I live between Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney depending on where the Australian cycling team is based! Before the Olympics I’ll be based in Brisbane.

How did you get started in cycling?

A bit by chance, I thought cycling was quite lame and that I was going to go to the Olympics as an 800-meter runner. One day my stepfather, whose family own a bike shop, finally convinced me to try cycling and I quite literally fell in love with it instantly! I was 17.

Kaarle McCulloch wins track team sprint world title 2019
Kaarle McCulloch & Stephanie Morton win the team sprint world title in 2019. Photo credit: Casey Gibson

At what point did you realize that cycling was more than a hobby?

From the very first time I got on a track bike. It was my first session ever and I was participating in my club’s training. We were doing standing 400-meter efforts and I did a couple of efforts and it felt pretty fast and exciting. The coach asked me how I thought I went and then he replied to me: “if you would have done that same time on a track 100m longer you would be the Olympic champion like Anna Meares”. And that was it. I knew I was going to go to the Olympics as a cyclist and win just like Anna.

What’s your most cherished memory in your sporting career to date?

My 500-meter TT win at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 was special as it was my first major individual title and on a home track in front of a lot of people who have supported me since day one.

What are your goals for the Olympics?

I think any athlete who goes to the Olympics would be lying if they said they weren’t going for anything less than a gold. My outcome remains the same—gold! But my focus is on realizing my potential physically, mentally and tactically on the day.

What will your training look like as the Games approach?

As I am no longer preparing for the team sprint as my teammate Stephanie Morton retired, I am focused on the Keirin. So training is really different to what I’ve ever done. It’s a bit unknown and a bit scary but at the same time exciting and fun.

Which athletes inspire you?

I stopped idolizing one or a few people a long time ago and started trying to find the best in everyone and modeling myself off their best qualities. For example, when I was training away from the national squad and was around younger, less experienced riders, I still learnt a lot from those younger riders, their fearlessness was inspiring me, and I will forever keep trying to find the best in every person I meet.

Australian track cyclist Kaarle McCulloch gives thumbs up on the velodrome
Kaarle McCulloch on the velodrome. Photo Credit: AAP

What keeps you motivated during difficult times?

Of course, the support system around me, but I feel as though that’s the standard answer to that kind of question. But my support system is super important and they have definitely kept me going the last year in particular but I think in general it’s actually myself. I motivate myself. I am the only one who goes out there onto the track and has to ride and so I have to be responsible for that motivation. On my most difficult days, I imagine the feeling of crossing the finish line in Tokyo in first place in the Keirin and that’s what keeps me motivated.

Advice for younger riders striving for the Olympics?

Aim for the stars but remember that the most important thing in life is actually to realize your potential in any given moment. In this day and age we forget that making a team, doing a PB or being in the top 20 is on its own an amazing feat if you have realized your potential. So cherish every moment no matter if it’s an actual gold or a 10th place.

If you weren’t a pro rider, what would you be doing now?

That’s hard to answer because I’ve been a pro rider for 15 years. But I’m close to becoming a qualified teacher, so probably a teacher or something to do with sport.

Favorite coffee ride snack?

Banana bread.

Favorite coffee ride stop?

Apparently I’m not a “real” cyclist, as I don’t like coffee… but if I do stop, probably anywhere idyllic like Henley beach in Adelaide.

What’s your spirit animal and why?

A wolverine…because it’s immensely strong for its size and is known for defeating the likes of animals much bigger than itself. I like to think I am capable of that when I’m in form on the bike. I might not be the fastest all the time, but I’ll be the fiercest.

One thing you can’t live without on the road?

My earplugs. You never know what kind of room you will have… or roommate. They ensure I have a peaceful night’s sleep.

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