TWENTY years is a long time when it comes to Olympic cycling – just ask Gary Dighton.

A 1992 Games veteran, the Wareham-based athlete knows better than most the changing face of the sport in the UK.

In Dighton’s day, athletes regularly had to juggle a full-time job with training and competitions. It is also likely they’d have been able to walk down the street without attracting a second glance.

Now, stars like Sir Chris Hoy and Mark Cavendish are household names, with flourishing careers on the tracks and roads, boasting a major chance of London 2012 glory.

Dighton has watched the sport’s development with interest and delight.

He told the Echo: “In 1992, cycling was not as high profile as it is now. The sport has certainly come on leaps and bounds, which is great.

“As in the Olympic Games, it was high-profile then. But now, and with it being in London, it is really out there.

“The cyclists are one of our big hopes. In Beijing, we did incredibly well in all events.

“I think that was perhaps due to Lottery funding which we didn’t have in our time.

“When I was riding in 1992, we were all working full-time so we had to fit our training around a job. It was difficult but we did get special leave.

“Now, the guys are full-time athletes and get all the scientific back up and all that support, which is great. I think that has helped their success.”

Dighton recalls working as a postal officer for the Royal Mail during his top-level cycling career, while team-mates included a pharmacist and district council employee.

Dighton, who works for Borough of Poole, said: “It’s great to see so many people out on bikes now. The sport’s profile is a lot higher. As well as the track, we’re doing well on the roads and in BMX. All aspects are thriving.

“In Bournemouth and Poole, we’re fortunate to have new facilities with the track, which is a benefit for people getting into cycling.”

Dighton, 43, stopped riding in 1998 but got back in the saddle with Poole Wheelers in 2010.

A prolific winner over all distances during the 1990s, he enjoyed his moment in the Olympic spotlight when he helped the British quartet finish 14th in their event in Barcelona.