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20 Dec 2023

Para cycling star Archie Atkinson finishes runner-up in SportsAid’s One-to-Watch Award 2023

Para cycling star Archie Atkinson has enjoyed a stellar 12 months and his achievements have not gone unnoticed after he was named as the runner-up in SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award 2023. 

Archie Atkinson

The 19-year-old, from Heaton Moor in Greater Manchester, experienced an incredible year on the senior circuit having won World Championship gold in the C4 scratch race on the track before taking bronze in the road race in Glasgow.

Archie, originally selected as one of 10 shortlisted athletes for the One-to-Watch Award, was surprised to be presented with his trophy by Will Bjergfelt, the C5 road race world champion, at the National Cycling Centre. The annual Award, launched in 2006, recognises Britain’s brightest young sporting prospects and has previously been won by Olympic champions Tom Daley and Alex Yee and Paralympic gold medallist Hollie Arnold.

The top 10 athletes were selected from around 1,000 rising stars, supported by SportsAid, across more than 60 different sports in 2023. And Archie explained how honoured he felt to be recognised for his efforts.

“This is pretty special,” said Archie. “It’s not something I was expecting to happen so it’s a nice award to be given. It’s really nice to be recognised for my achievements this year. There’s obviously the medals and the jerseys but it’s quite nice to see that outside the squad, people are recognising my performances. With the Worlds, I went into it with the same mindset as World Cups. It’s just another race, but there’s a nice stripey jersey at the end. At the Games, there’s a very nice medal at the end of the competition.”

Archie goes into every race with the expectation of winning but he admits there is a little extra pressure on his shoulders going into 2024. He has put himself in a strong position to represent Great Britain at the Paralympics in Paris next summer having claimed three national titles, 10 road and time trial victories and two World Cup podiums this year – and Archie’s family are already confident he will make it.

“My parents, grandparents and uncles have all bought tickets for Paris,” said Archie, who received his SportsAid support from Marsh this year. “So now, there is pressure, I have to go. I have to get a medal at track worlds and the road World Cup and then I should go to the Games hopefully, all being well. I’d be doing road, time trial, kilo and pursuit, basically everything apart from team sprint.

“This year has been madness. It’s been a little bit unbelievable, I came into it not expecting everything that happened. It all happened very quickly. I’ve always been fairly confident, going into everything, I wanted to win it. I’ve got similar expectations for next year, I want to do everything I can and we’ll see what happens.”

Archie, who is autistic and has a number of neurological disorders, won his first World Championships title in the wake of his world being turned upside down. He was preparing to take part in the Glasgow showpiece when he found out about the passing of his close friend Magnus White who competed for the United States. With the help of a team psychiatrist and his family, Archie powered through the grief to win gold and bronze, all while carrying messages in memory of White in his shoes and on his jersey.

"Glasgow was mentally challenging," said Archie. "Losing one of my best mates the day before the competition started meant my mental state wasn't really in the right place for the first few days. It was the first major death I've had in my life, but I worked out a way to use it as firepower and did it for him. The notes in my shoes and on my jersey meant he always had my back. It really helped me through and made me feel like I was supernatural.

"The one in my track shoes said: '#RideforMagnus. Magnus flies high. I'm ripping round the velo in your honour. This is for you. Love you bro." And the road race note said: 'Every turn of the pedals, every change of gear, every move in the peloton is for you Magnus'. I remember the gold like it was yesterday. On that last lap, I couldn't give in. It took me a while to realise I had won but it was incredible.”

To ensure that he will be ready, the self-confessed glutton for punishment will be heading into the unknown in the New Year. Already a strong time triallist, both on the track and the road, Archie has so far relied on watching the world’s best for tips on his body position. But that will change when he gets some time in the wind tunnel and is able to work on finding the best possible set-up to shave off some crucial fractions of seconds in his bid for more success.

He explained: “In January, I’ve got wind tunnel testing, which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ve never done wind tunnel testing before so my position is just based on looking at what other people do and seeing if I can hold it. I try to find one that works and look in the mirror to see if it looks fairly aero. This will give me a chance to use the science behind it and that will be really nice.”

SportsAid’s annual One-to-Watch Award is backed by Royal Bank of Canada – a long-standing supporter of the charity celebrating 10 years of partnership in 2023. Each of the top 10 shortlisted athletes have received cash boosts and special in-person visits at their training environments to celebrate their achievements.