• Kaarle McCulloch of Australia celebrates finishing first in the sprint final during the Oceania Track Cycling Championships (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Finally injury-free and posting career-best times, Kaarle McCulloch feels confident she is set on the path to selection for her second Olympics in Rio.
Cycling Central

30 Dec 2015 - 12:13 PM  UPDATED 30 Dec 2015 - 1:22 PM

The combination of Kaarle McCulloch and Anna Meares is synonymous with Australian track cycling success, but McCulloch's name is bandied about far less than that of the decorated icon she competes alongside.

The 27-year-old hopes to change that, now finally injury-free and believing her recent times quick enough to earn a second Olympic berth in Rio.

McCulloch and Meares have a glittering combined history, having won bronze in the team sprint at the London 2012 Olympics and gold at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, along with a hat-trick of world titles between 2009 and 2011.

But McCulloch spent her many of prime years battling a chronic knee injury that thwarted her ability to train and affected her performance.

The pain simply did not cease, and resulted in a shock decision to withdraw from the 2014 world championships.

"In January 2014 I honestly thought that was career over," McCulloch told AAP. "That was quite a difficult period of time in my life.

"I had a bit of depression, didn't really know what I was going to do, didn't know if it was even possible for me to be pain-free."

Eventually, it was.

McCulloch clawed her way back and successfully reunited with Meares in February to take bronze at the 2015 world titles in Paris.

She got this season off to a positive start in October, claiming gold medals in the sprint, team sprint and 500m time trial at the Oceania Championships.

But the most promising sign from the Sydney-born former runner's perspective is the time she put down at this month's World Cup event in Cambridge, New Zealand.

"I'm doing career-best times. I did a 10.954 in the sprint qualification in New Zealand, which is first time under 11 seconds," she said.

"There was a big fist pump in the air for that one.

"I keep surprising myself with how far I'm improving."

McCulloch has a few events left in her bid to qualify for Rio, including the third World Cup instalment in Hong Kong in January, the Australian national championships in February and, finally, the world championships in London in March.

In Cambridge, she partnered with Stephanie Morton to win silver in the team sprint after Meares pulled out with a back injury.

The trio are vying for only two women's sprint spots on Australia's Olympic team, meaning the pressure to perform is intense.

"I would have to say we're probably on an even playing field at the moment," McCulloch said.

"The next few competitions are really important ... it's really stiff competition.

"It's a good thing for the country because Australia's going to know they've got the two best riders there.

"And the really exciting thing is that as a team in the team event we're winning medals with any combination, so we're all good enough to win medals.

"It obviously makes it a lot more difficult for us but it's an exciting prospect."