Britain have dominated the sprints at the last three Games, collecting a clean sweep of all three events – the team sprint, individual sprint and the keirin – in each, but will start the Tokyo Games as underdogs.
That is largely based on the results of last year’s World Championships in Berlin where they were a distant second to Holland in the team sprint while failing to claim a medal in either of the individual events.
But with 16 months having passed since those Championships, it is hard to say how relevant those results might still be following a winter in which the schedule was ripped up amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re definitely underdogs, there’s no doubt about that,” Carlin said. “I think the Dutch have been so dominant over the last three or four years now that no-one’s touched them.
“We had an extra year, we have improved. But you don’t know how much they have improved because none of us have raced.
“We don’t truly know what our potential is.”
Kenny draws the spotlight in the sprint squad as he targets a seventh gold medal which would move him clear of Sir Chris Hoy as Britain’s most successful Olympian, but last year the 33-year-old himself called Carlin the “benchmark” for this current squad.
The Paisley-born rider is continuing a recent proud Scottish tradition in the sprint, following in the footsteps of both Hoy and Callum Skinner in seeking Olympic glory.
“I’ve been on the team with Callum – we went to the Commonwealth Games together – and he’s a friend,” Carlin said. “He was probably asked the same questions about Chris five years ago.
“Chris was obviously the one I watched when London was on. That was what sparked my interest into wanting to do this as a full-time job.
“It’s funny because you’ve had three in a row now in terms of Scottish sprinters going to the Games. I think that’s credit to Scottish Cycling in giving us the facilities and allowing young riders to achieve what they want to achieve.”
Carlin will not get the full experience of the Games on debut due to the strict protocols in place as Tokyo deals with a state of emergency.
The track cyclists will arrive too late to take part in the opening ceremony, while Carlin is due to compete on the final day of the Games, leaving him in a race against time to make the closing ceremony as well.
With the velodrome located out of town in Izu, as it stands a small crowd should be allowed in but it will be a long way from the usual buzz.
“As an athlete, the crowd is important but the goal doesn’t change,” Carlin said. “We go in there to compete for our country.
“And a medal, if you get there, is still the biggest thing you can achieve in sport anyway. I don’t think that changes.
“Granted you’re not going to have family and friends there with you. But there’s time to celebrate afterwards if things go the way we hope they will.
“The other thing is it makes you hungrier, I guess, for Paris in three years’ time. It’s not long away either.”