One of world track sprinting’s most decorated cyclists will hang up the bike after announcing her retirement.
In a glittering 15-year international career, Kaarle McCulloch won four rainbow jerseys, ten World Championship medals, Olympic bronze, six Commonwealth Games medals including three golds, 21 Oceania titles and 15 national crowns.
“My medals and all my achievements have been fantastic, and I will cherish them for the rest of my life,” said McCulloch to AusCyling.
“But what I hope people remember me for is the effort that I put in. I wasn’t the most talented athlete.
“But I was the hardest working, the most persistent.
“You’d ask me how high you want me to jump, and I’d do a little bit more.”
At fifteen years of age, McCulloch switched from national-level athletics to cycling after watching Australia’s best in action at the Track World Cup at the Dunc Gray Velodrome in Sydney in the early 2000s.
McCulloch joined her local club, St George Cycling Club, and quickly rose through the ranks on the national and international stage.
Her junior years were highlighted with World Championship bronze on debut for Australia in 2006.
“It has always been my dream to wear the green and gold. I always thought it would be in athletics, but one day my stepdad, whose family owned a bike shop, Bates Bikes in Hurstville in Sydney, basically forced me to try the bike,” McCulloch said.
“Quite literally, in that one moment on that one day at training, I knew that I was going to be a cyclist.
“I was competitive straight away, on my first day of racing I beat everybody there, the boys included.
“And that was it, I knew I was going to be a cyclist.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. But I was out there giving it a go.
“But the support was immense from my club, from the New South Wales Institute of Sport, and then from the Australian Cycling Team. ‘
“That just shows what that support can do for a motivated young person.”
Congratulations on your illustrious career @kaarlemcculloch, the six-time Commonwealth Games medallist has called time on her career today 👏👏
— Commonwealth Games Australia (@CommGamesAUS) November 12, 2021
Just three years later, in 2009, McCulloch partnered with Anna Meares OAM to win the first of three straight team sprint world crowns, punctuated with a world record in 2011.
Further success came for McCulloch and Meares in 2010 with the duo winning team sprint gold at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
McCulloch described the moment as a dream come true when she recounted the story as part of the 10-year celebration of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games.
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McCulloch went on to make her Olympic debut at the London 2012 Olympic Games and, with Meares, defeated Ukraine to win the team sprint bronze medal.
“That period from 2009 through to 2012 was pretty amazing. And it was also a big learning curve for me because we just did not lose for a long period,” McCulloch said.
“So, that expectation became quite great, particularly in the final six to eight months leading into the Olympics, and I put too much pressure on myself.
“But Anna and I, as a team, really were formidable.
“We were formidable because we were the first to training, we were the last two to leave, we dotted every ‘i’, we crossed every ‘t’.
“In terms of the best combination that you could possibly get for a team, I really think that we had everything that you could look for.
“And that’s why we were so successful.
“I knew how hard she worked, and I didn’t want to let her down, and I know that she didn’t want to let me down, either.”
In 2018, McCulloch stunned a home crowd in Brisbane when she claimed dual Commonwealth Games gold medals, firstly in the team sprint with Stephanie Morton, followed by the individual time trial, which she cherishes as one of her favourite career moments.
“A home Commonwealth Games, I was going in there giving everything that I possibly could. To that point, most of my success in my career had come through the team event, and I loved sharing that top step of the podium, but ultimately, I also wanted to do it on my own,” McCulloch said.
“To do it on the Gold Coast in front of my friends and family was fantastic, particularly with the pressure that I was under as Steph had ridden just before me and had recorded a time faster than my personal bests.
“So, I was proud to be able to win, to celebrate that and to do a victory lap on my own. I had never been able to do that before.
“Going out into the crowd and seeing my family was just, you know, it gives me goosebumps still to this day, and it is one of the moments that I will cherish forever.”
Kaarle celebrated with her family after winning gold at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. (Getty Images)
Ten years after winning her maiden world title, McCulloch took a fourth career rainbow jersey at the 2019 World Championships in the team sprint with Morton.
McCulloch found another gear at the Championships, claiming a career-best three medals after racing to the keirin silver and time trial bronze.
At the 2020 World Championships, McCulloch won team sprint silver with Morton.
Following Morton’s retirement in 2020, which left Australia without a team sprint outfit for the Tokyo Games, McCulloch contested the keirin and sprint in her second Olympic appearance.
“I was incredibly proud of myself to see Tokyo through because I had a severe chronic back injury that I sustained in late 2019 that really derailed my Tokyo campaign,” McCulloch said.
“I was still dealing with daily pain leading into Tokyo, so just to get to Tokyo was an incredible achievement.
“And what I came to learn in my career over time was that success doesn’t always look like a gold medal.
“Sometimes it is just a personal best or just fronting up and finishing something that you started.”
As she looks back at her incredible career, McCulloch is quick to thank those that helped her reach her goals.
“There are so many people that I would like to think that I don’t believe it would be fair for me to just pick a few names,” McCulloch said.
“The people who have had a massive impact on my career know who they are.
“I just want them to know that I am so thankful because I know that I couldn’t do what I did at the highest level for 15 years without their support.
“To the Australian Cycling Team who, just like the athletes, must turn up every day.
“I know that they also ride the highs and the lows with us.
“They feel our pain, but they also can celebrate with us.
With thanks AusCycling.