Gordon torchbearer has an eye on 2016 Rio Olympics

Westruther sailing sensation Callum Airlie, who has been chosen as a Bank of Scotland 'Local Hero'
Westruther sailing sensation Callum Airlie, who has been chosen as a Bank of Scotland 'Local Hero'

ONE of the Borders’ brightest young sporting hopes will carry the Olympic torch when it starts its journey through Berwickshire today.

Sixteen-year-old sailor Callum Airlie of Westruther will bear the flame through Gordon, a reward for his work on the Bank of Scotland Local Heroes Scheme.

“There were 340 of us on the scheme in Scotland,” he said, “and 70 got the opportunity to be nominated for the torch.

“I was very much involved in National School Sports Week. That meant getting up and talking at Sports Days around the county, telling primary school kids how they can get involved - just sharing the love for sport, really.”

Callum will be the first Berwickshire representative in the relay, carrying the specially-crafted torch. It has 8,000 holes in its design, meant to symbolise both the number of relay participants and the number of miles it will cover around the UK. Callum buys into the symbolism of the event whole-heartedly.

“We got the torch bearer tracksuits last week,” he said, “and they’ve had a bit of criticism, but I think it is quite a good design.

“The white with gold trim is meant to represent the flame itself, which I think is really quite cool.”

And Callum is already sure that he will pay the £215 to keep his torch.

“In my high school - Earlston - there are three torch bearers. Me and another nominee held a sponsored silence at school one day, and I managed not to say anything for 13 hours straight. That was a major achievement for me! I’m sure my teachers will tell you that I am renowned amongst them for being chatty. We raised just enough to be able to keep our torches.”

Callum has one more year of sailing in the 4.20 division (the feeder class for the Olympics), and already, his concerns are those of a prospective Olympian.

For example, he is even more aware of the power of social media than your average teenager. He said: “Quite a few of our British competitors have Facebook pages. I prefer it. Twitter is too sharp and snappy for me. But all that social contact goes into supporting the sport.

“Sailing has been a great medal-winner for Britain. Basically, if you’re the best in Britain at sailing, you are number one in the world.”

That is a position Callum is keeping a wary eye on. “In theory, Brazil 2016 is doable but obviously, it will be tough,” he said.

If he doesn’t get to the next Olympics, it will not be for lack of effort. Callum trains at East Lothian Yacht Club, at North Berwick, and travels far and wide for competitions.

He continued: “Obviously we’re in a very tricky position, geographically. I’m 45 minutes away from my ‘home’ club and it’s actually quite rare that I get there.

“My parents are really helpful in driving me. Things should get a bit easier when I get a driving license - I turn 17 next month.

“But then, you have to take into consideration, if you’re competing, and you’re out on the water all day, what kind of state are you going to be in driving for hours and hours?”

Callum admits that more travel may be necessary: he is considering having to pay tuition fees in an Englsh university in order to keep up his training. And, ironically, he will miss most of the Olympics this summer as he competes in the World Championships in Austria.