A Catch-up with Silky Sprinter Sarah
3 October 2023
Sarah Johnson is a track sprinter who is following on from the success of her sister Kirsty. In July we reported that Sarah had won gold in the European championships, and in August she travelled to Trinidad and Tobago for the Commonwealth Youth Games. Now she has had more time to reflect, we asked her a few questions, and the responses were just fascinating. I hope you enjoy the story of one of our youth ‘graduates’.
Photo: © Unknow
Sarah is a track sprinter carrying on the success of her sister Kirsty.
In July we reported that Sarah had won gold in the European championships, and in August she travelled to Trinidad and Tobago for the Commonwealth Youth Games.
Now she has had more
time to reflect, we asked her a few questions, and the responses were
just fascinating. I hope you enjoy the story of one of our youth
Early cycling memories
I learnt to ride
when I was 4 years old and had many adventures. I rode my bike to
school on my first day with my dad and my big sister Kirsty. When I
was 5 I did my first major ride – the 11-mile family Pedal for
Scotland where I remember coming into Murrayfield overjoyed.
Early memories at
Edinburgh Road Club
I joined the ERC as
soon as I could when I was 8. My first go-ride session was at Inch
Park where I immediately made a great friend Livi (we had the same
shoes, which was a great 8-year-old conversation starter!). Skills
sessions were made so much fun with different types of games, and
Pete gave me the nickname “Silky Sarah” which inspired me.
Cyclocross - I
started racing cyclocross when I was 9 and I loved the mud. My first
race was at Inch Park where my bike was so heavy the marshals pitied
me and gave me the monopoly money which won me a voucher for a bike
shop. Another memorable race was Lochore Meadows where my (heavy)
bike was so covered in mud that I had to carry it for the last half
lap. It took me a good couple of years to understand that I was
actually racing to win (and not just for the free Haribos)! I only
started getting on the podium as a youth C (didn’t reach the top
Road - I remember
all of the sessions at Ingliston with rain chucking it down (it was
rarely good weather as it’s Scotland). I didn’t start doing well
until I was 15 but tried my best and got so much out of the racing.
Track - I went along
to Meadowbank with my sister Kirsty for the first time when I was 8.
I thoroughly enjoyed it and Ken said to my mum that I was a natural.
I got through nearly the whole session before I hit the curb at the
bottom of the track and went tumbling over the concrete into the
grass. This knocked my confidence a lot. I got back into it but was
really anxious - I remember being so happy when I could finally ride
around the blue again. I loved the Meadowbank sunsets and feeling the
wind on my face. It was the sense of freedom that made me love track. After the 6 p.m. Friday sessions, it would get really cold so my mum
would bring me hot Ribena and let me wrap up in her puffy jacket to
I decided that I
didn't want to try the track again until I was 12 (I was very strong-minded). So 3 years later, as promised, I got back on the track bike
(one of the many bikes ERC has been so kind to lend me) and got my
accreditation, then I started track racing. I raced because I loved
it and when I was 15, I started getting better results.
I was on the GB
Sprint Foundation programme 2021-22 where I progressed onto Junior
Academy for 2022-23. I chose track sprint because I love zooming
around the track at crazy speeds and experimenting with different
tactics in match sprints.
(Someone dug out a photo of Kirsty in ERC colours)
- School Games 2021 - I loved it, had an amazing time with the team, and Scotland placed 2nd overall
- Breaking two U16 female Scottish records.
- The 500mTT (three times!) knocking Kirsty off the record books…sorry!
- The flying 200mTT
- Apeldoorn – after 2 weeks of an awful cold I was unsure if I would race at all, but I recovered just in time, and we won the team sprint, I got 4th in the 500mTT and 6th in the keirin.
- Junior European Championships 2023 - I was hyped to go as I wasn’t sure I'd be selected due to how much training I had missed earlier in the year. But over my exams, I trained really hard and was selected for the team-sprint and 500m TT. Putting that European jersey on felt so surreal! Immediately after the podium, I managed to fall off my road bike in the infield with my jersey and medal on. Everyone's backs turned to look at me which was embarrassing but hilarious at the same time (my teammates and I cried with laughter).
- Youth Commonwealth Games 2023 – after a great summer I went not knowing the competition, as it was my first multisport games. It was a fantastic experience, and I made some friends while I was there. The Australian coach came up to me and said how much he loved my racecraft. He was very happy that I was a first-year junior alongside his female sprinter, as he can't wait for us to race each other again. To come home with 2 gold medals in the sprint and keirin, and a silver in the 500m TT was unreal and I am honoured to have represented Team Scotland.
- Sometimes races don’t go to plan. For the Scottish road circuit Champs 2021 my gears had slipped which wasn’t picked up in the pre-race gear check. This was tough for me as I believed I had won. What made it worse was how my mum had to drive me all the way from Wales to Fife for the race and then drive all the way back down with a very upset Sarah to continue our holiday.
- In the UK Junior keirin track champs 2022 I put so much effort into the race that I deviated from my line, so after winning it, I got relegated to 6th and Kirsty took the title. This was a major learning experience and hopefully, I won't do it again.
- Not racing the keirin at Euros. Not everyone can be selected for everything so it was hard for me to hear I couldn’t ride my favourite race, but I watched and still learnt a lot from it.
- Junior European Champs 2023 --> beating Germany by 0.07s to claim the title
- Youth Commonwealth Games Trinbago 2023 --> standing on the podium and singing Flower of Scotland...twice
- British Airways lost my bike in transit on the way to Trinidad, so it was a super-stressful six days waiting to hear where it was. In the meantime, Millie and Evie were really kind and lent me their bikes for sessions. My bike turned up in the nick of time which was a great relief (my parents were very happy to have insured it 2 nights before I left)!
Pizza toppings (that is apparently important!)
I don’t do spicy
or mushrooms but I’m good with anything else (yes that means
pineapple on pizza - people can judge if they want).
past present and even future.
I only specialised
in track sprint a couple of years ago and before then I did endurance
training (road track and cyclocross).
Currently, I am a
first year at the GBCT junior academy so I get my training programme from
GB which in June consisted of: two 2-hour gym sessions, downhill
sprints, track bike starts and explosive turbo efforts as my weekly
programme (speed block which prepares my body for competition). I
have finished my off-season, so I'm getting back into training which
is: three 2-hour gym sessions a week, a turbo session, a 90-minute
recovery road ride and one rest day.
Soon I’ll be
commuting to Glasgow and back once a week and I'll be doing start
sessions over there. Gym and track bike starts are two heavily
focused areas for sprint.
this year and in the future.
This year it was
Junior Euros, British Champs and Youth Commie Games. I have the Scottish Champs coming up in November and then the British senior track champs in
February. I’d love the opportunity to race again for GB at Junior
Euros next year in Germany. I’ll also be working towards
selection for Junior Worlds in China so I’ve got my work cut out
It would be amazing
if by 2026 I am fast enough to go to the Commonwealth Games if it
not necessarily cycling.
I’m not sure what I want to do yet but I’m definitely thinking of university, maybe after a gap year to give myself time to decide what I want to do and work out where cycling is going.
Racing - this
sounds stupid but even going through a race in my head, thinking
about possible race scenarios gets my heart racing. Getting through
to the final of a competition is always exciting, even if I don’t
end up winning or medalling, it’s still a huge achievement getting
there and shows how much hard work pays off.
This is my second
year in the National Girls Choir of Scotland, which gives me
opportunities to perform in front of a range of audiences. The
biggest event I have been a part of was the opening concert of the Edinburgh International Festival 2022 where we were invited to sing
We were also in a
Christmas recording for BBC last December which was exciting as there
were loads of cameras everywhere and I got to watch it on Christmas
I’ve played the
piano for 11 years now but a couple of years ago when cycling started
to take up my time, I now just do it for fun and to clear my mind.