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May 30, 2004

King of the mountain

From: The Scotsman - Edinburgh,Scotland,UK - May 30, 2004


LIKE most people, Crawford Carrick-Anderson prefers face-to-face meetings to the impersonality of an exchange via email. Unlike most people, however, he is profoundly deaf and speech impaired, which might make his absolute insistence on meeting people in person slightly intriguing, but hardly out of character.

Nobody has a bad word to say about Carrick-Anderson, and on the eve of what he says will be his final major event on home soil, it is entirely fitting to acknowledge his contribution to mountain biking and to celebrate his career before the big send-off next weekend at the Mountain Bike World Cup in Fort William.

And who's to say he won't disappear without one final flourish? As his rivals in the tightly-knit and flash, brash world of downhill mountain biking acknowledge, Crawfie, as he's known by everyone, can still cut it.

But boy, is he inconsistent. Last year he seemed to veer between triumph and disaster, though he insists that mechanical problems were to blame for the latter. "Excuses, excuses," his wife, Katy, says with a laugh, delivering a poke in the ribs.

When he rode well, he rode very well, and never better than in winning the final round of last season's British series. And his reaction to this success was laced with his trademark humour and self-deprecation. "I was so happy. But I said, 'Come on, I'm 33! What's wrong with you guys?' "

A 14th place in last year's World Cup at Fort William followed the previous year's 13th in the world championships, suggesting that Carrick-Anderson is still capable of competing with the best. On his chances in Fort William next weekend, he says: "I'd love to be top 10. It's definitely possible. I'm fit and I feel good."

A result for Carrick-Anderson at Fort William would be fitting. The World Cup in the Highland town is an event with which he is more closely associated than any other rider, and next year the event will certainly be diminished by his absence. As a competitor, that is, because nobody imagines that one of the most colourful and extrovert personalities on the circuit will vanish from the scene altogether.

Fort William first featured on the World Cup circuit in 2002, with Carrick-Anderson involved in the design and construction of the new course, and a real contender at world level, climbing into the top ten in the world rankings. Now 34, he might be scaling such heights less frequently than he once did, but the desire is still there - and so, clearly, is the enjoyment.

It is, alas, the sponsorship that is missing. "I used to have lottery funding," he explains, "but I found out in January that I wasn't getting any this year. The lottery was fantastic, really helpful, because the sponsorship in mountain biking is not what it was a few years ago. My sponsors now are great, but they can only give me bikes and clothing and some expenses. I can't go on competing like that."

Carrick-Anderson makes himself understood with the help of Katy, his wife of two years, though in the course of a meeting she assumes a progressively more peripheral role.

The truth is, Carrick-Anderson is accomplished in the art of communication, with an impressive range of facial expressions, arm movements and partially-formed words, that become easier to interpret the longer you spend in his company. It tends to be a rewarding experience, too, for he radiates positive energy. Most take their leave recognising that face-to-face is indeed preferable to email, whatever their initial misgivings.

The couple have a son, 17-month-old Corran - named after the Corran ferry, near Fort William, on which Carrick-Anderson has been a regular passenger - and a 63-year-old dog, Patch, a faithful companion for all his nine human years.

Although family and work commitments now demand considerable attention, sport is still the central plank in Carrick-Anderson's life, commanding considerable chunks of his time and attention. Not that he's complaining; he has known little else.

With his sister, Emma, he began skiing at the age of two. Emma went on, of course, to an illustrious career as an Olympic skier, finally calling time last year, and now she lives in a new house close to her brother's in Dunbar. "She came home after the winter just this week," beams Carrick-Anderson. "She's enjoying herself more than ever, teaching and coaching, mainly in Courchavel. She never realised she could be so content while not racing."

From Carrick-Anderson, this is an interesting comment: one that perhaps betrays his own concerns about the void that retirement may create. To fill the gap he has returned to motorbikes, and now competes regularly in enduro racing, something he enjoys and is doing rather well in, having won two rounds in last year's Scottish series. "It's just a hobby," he insists, though the shifty smile, aimed at Katy, suggests that it's a little more serious than that.

While his sister's achievements have earned her a reasonable level of fame and recognition, Carrick-Anderson's exploits have thrust him into the limelight only on occasions, notably the last two World Cups in Fort William. Yet his pedigree as a sportsman is quite remarkable for its diversity and the excellence he has shown in different sports.

He, too, skied for Scotland and for Great Britain, from 1988 to 1992, and was twice British dry slope champion. He competed as an international swimmer and was Scottish motorcycle trials champion twice before he switched to pedal bikes. "I am in love with two-wheeled sports," he says, but specifically it was on a mountain bike, and in the original extreme sport of downhilling, that he felt most comfortable. There are some obvious reasons.

On a motorbike, he says, his deafness was a real handicap. On a mountain bike, it didn't matter. There was nothing to hear, other than the crowd.

This brought minor problems, especially as his success in the sport meant that he became recognised by increasing numbers of supporters. Knowing he was deaf, they would make extra efforts to catch his attention. Some would wave in his face, others would try to touch him. "I hate the crowd waving at me to catch my attention when I'm competing," he has said. "It puts me off and I'd rather they stay still, because my eyes are good and they pick up everything."

On the subject of his deafness, he explains that he has never considered himself disadvantaged as a mountain biker. "I was deaf from birth," he says with a shrug, "so it hasn't ever been an issue for me. Some people get nervous when they speak to a deaf person, but as far as mountain biking is concerned, it's just not important."

Though Carrick-Anderson is relentlessly, almost exhaustingly, upbeat, he does appear a little dispirited on the subject of support and sponsorship. For several years he rode as a professional, with a salary and the full support of a team. Now he rides for the more modest Santa Cruz-Fox Racing team, though he's anxious to stress his gratitude to all his sponsors. It has meant that this year he has also had to start working, and he's attempting to build a career in the two areas in which he's qualified - as a silversmith and in the field of graphic and digital design.

"It has been slow to take off," he admits. "I work at home, making jewellery in my workshop in the garage and working on my computer in the house. I work on my own but I can't talk to people on the phone, and that is so important when you're working."

It is clear that sport has meant, and continues to mean, so much to Carrick-Anderson, and he epitomises many of the core values of sport. He may be disadvantaged by deafness, but he asks no favours, and seeks no excuses. As a role model and an example to young riders, Carrick-Anderson is exemplary. What he has achieved he has earned through hard work and dedication; and what his success proves, more than anything, is the performance-enhancing effects of a positive can-do attitude.

But let us not dwell exclusively on what he has given to sport. Sport has been kind to Carrick-Anderson, too.

"The main thing it has given me is friends," he says. "You should have seen our wedding. I had friends there from all over the world; people I'd never have met without mountain biking. I've made so many friends.

"And there's the competition. It has given me a challenge, which I enjoy. It doesn't matter that I'm deaf, the challenge is the same for me. And it has let me travel: I have seen so much of the world. Sport has been very good for me."

As a sportsman he found he could compete as an equal. In the world of work, he is finding this less easy. But he will persevere, and on this occasion he does ask for assistance.

"My website address," he says, wearing the familiar broad smile, "is"

The site contains full details of Carrick-Anderson's mountain biking career too, and it makes entertaining reading. Especially the diary, where he tells of upending his car as he drove last winter to Glentress to go night-riding - yet another passion.

On a deserted moor road he spotted a rabbit - "No, a hare," he says now - and swerved to avoid it, ending up off the road and upside down. Katy insists that he re-tells this story, even though she has obviously heard it many times.

"I didn't know where I was," he says, animated and in full flow, "and I was confused. I didn't even know I was upside down.

"I ran, panicking; it was pitch black. I couldn't even find the road.

"I was just so glad I didn't have my bike on the roof," he adds, rubbing forefinger and thumb together to indicate that this would have meant serious cash. "Next time I'll hit the rabbit."

The diary entries on his website are similarly expressive, such as the one telling of last year's victory in the final round of the British series. "I tried to avoid being nervous... I got to the top of the beautiful hill and waited for the Elite category race. The wind was quite strong. I rode down and felt good. I tried not to think about the strong wind when I rode.

"At last I'd won. I screamed: 'No bad luck!' My riding and jumping went almost perfectly. It was about time! I was so happy 'cos it was my last race. I kissed my fantastic Santa Cruz."

It is classic Carrick-Anderson: as excitable as his young son and in danger of being carried away with his own enthusiasm. He will be missed when he bows out of competition. Might he still change his mind?

"If I do fantastically well this year and somebody offered me money to ride, then you never know," he suggests. "But I can't do the World Cup series, because I've had enough of travelling. I miss Corran too much."

He adds that he's keen for Corran to be on skis by the time he's two - just like his dad. "Corran's mad on bikes. It's up to him what he does, but I hope he enjoys sport." Laughing, he adds: "I hope he's not keen on music, or playing the piano."

Overall, he concludes: "I've had a good time, but I feel it's enough. I like being at home, cutting the grass." He laughs and leans forward in his chair, moving his hand towards his mouth: "I'm like an old man with a pipe."