Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Comeback kid Hayden Roulston pedals Ashburton onto list of top Olympic towns

As part of our comprehensive build-up to Rio 2016, the Herald, in association with ANZ, is counting down New Zealand's top Olympic towns. Today, number seven - Ashburton. Find out how the list was compiled below.

Anyone who's ever written off double Olympic medallist Hayden Roulston has done so at their peril. The 35-year-old Ashburton cycling superstar has suffered more than his fair share of setbacks over the years.

A deadly heart condition, injuries, crashes and a drunken bar brawl all threatened to derail his career. But every time he's been down, he's picked himself up again to soar back to the top of the sport.

After announcing last year that he was trading in his professional road cycling career for another tilt at track racing, and a third Olympic Games, not many gave him a chance. The veteran missed out on the New Zealand men's pursuit team for the world champs earlier this year.

But Roulston kept doing what he's always done - training hard and battling. It all paid off when he was named in the men's 4000m pursuit team for Rio at the weekend - eight years after winning bronze in that event at the Beijing Olympics, where he also won silver in the individual 4000m pursuit.

"It was a pretty emotional moment to be honest," he said after learning of his selection. "It was like, I've done it, I've proven a few people wrong, I've proven to myself I've still got it.

"It has been a huge, huge goal. At times, that goal seemed so distant and probably well out of my reach, to be honest. But I stuck to my guns, I've ticked the boxes, I've had great support from Bike NZ in terms of opportunity, no matter what, they still believed that I could deliver.

"But there have been some tough times. There have been more downs than ups since I decided to come back 100 per cent a year ago. But to be named in the five to go to Rio, with a shot at doing something pretty special there, is something I'm very very proud of."

Roulston has been training hard in Europe to earn his spot. And he admits that it hasn't been easy.

"The physical capabilities don't concern me at all, it's the mental. I do a lot of work to tame that beast, and it's actually been with me my whole career but I'm definitely on top of things." Part of his motivation was the doubters.

"I think there was more that thought it wasn't going to happen than thought it was going to happen. There's always people out there who don't believe." New Zealand track cycling team head coach Dayle Cheatley was full of praise for Roulston and his doggedness.

"He gave up a career on the road to realise his dream of completing his career back on the track," he said.

"After eight years away, the sport had moved on and he has worked tirelessly on the bike and been an invaluable leader off it."

The four-time New Zealand road race champion, former Tour de France rider, and double Olympic medallist isn't at Rio to make up the numbers.

He believes the team, which also includes Dylan Kennett, Piet Bulling, Regan Gough, and Aaron Gate can top the podium.

"I've got a silver and I've got a bronze, I want to lead these boys to Olympic gold. If that happens, it would be the greatest moment ever... I really believe it's possible."

And who would doubt him?

'He's achieved almost the ultimate'

Tucked off Hinds Highway, dozens of lycra-clad and helmeted kids whizz round and round.

They lean into the banked concrete corners at pace and streak across the white-painted finish line where Don Kirdy punches the stopwatch.

It's here at Tinwald Cycling Club, established in 1923 on the southern edge of Mid Canterbury's farming hub of Ashburton with the snow-capped Southern Alps forming a stunning backdrop, that dreams are made and the hard graft begins.

The first-rate velodrome and facilities, along with passionate, knowledgeable volunteers like 78-year-old junior development coach Kirdy, have made the club, and the district, a cycling powerhouse.

Don Kirdy at the Tinwald velodrome where Olympian Hayden Roulston began his cycling career. Photo / Simon Baker
Don Kirdy at the Tinwald velodrome where Olympian Hayden Roulston began his cycling career. Photo / Simon Baker

Two club members will be cycling for gold at the Rio Olympics next month - Lauren Ellis in the women's 4000m team pursuit and Hayden Roulston in the men's equivalent.

Kirdy, who has been involved with the club for more than 25 years, remembers a "very young" Roulston first coming to the track.

While he wasn't an outstanding junior, with the expert help and training of his father Brian, Roulston has become a double Olympic medallist and one of New Zealand's greatest riders.

"Hayden's Dad really helped him when he needed the right kind of training and direction, and with that, you virtually have a champion on your hands," Kirdy said.

Roulston's success on the world stage has helped attract youngsters into the sport and to the club, including 2016 New Zealand National Road Race champion, Jason Christie.

Kirdy is full of praise for Roulston's willingness to offer them advice and guidance.

He struggles to put into words the pride he has for what Roulston has achieved.

"He's achieved almost the ultimate, really. Watching him go all the way through, it's simply fantastic."

Mid Canterbury is proud of its Olympic heroes. Ashburton's Paul Ackerley, a member of the men's hockey team who won gold in Montreal in 1976, died in 2011, aged 61. Methven rower Lindsay Wilson won gold in the men's eight at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Kirdy says having the right facilities, like Tinwald's 400m concrete velodrome, built with community money, is critical to success at the top level.

Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay agrees.

"The strong community spirit, volunteer attitude and the get-up-and-go, has meant we've always tried to provide the best possible facilities in order for our talented sportspeople to succeed, and it's paid off."

How we did it

We analysed information about every summer Games medallist to come up with the 10 towns that have made the biggest contribution to Olympic glory.

The final position is the result of combining two rankings. The gold rank is based on the number of gold medals won by people born in each town and city, divided by current population.

The Olympic rank is based on the number of medal-winning Olympians born in each town and city, divided by current population. We averaged the rankings to come up with the final position.

Today's town, Ashburton, is seventh on the ladder. It's the birthplace of two Olympians who have won three medals, including one gold. Its relatively high position is down its relatively small population - 32,200 according to 2015 figures from Statistics NZ. Ashburton's gold and Olympic ranks and both seven.

The method isn't scientific and we expect it to prompt debate. We know some athletes might identify with the towns they were brought up in rather than where they were born.

But our ranking gives a strong indication of the places that have given us greatest cause to celebrate Olympic success since Harry Kerr won New Zealand's first medal - a bronze in the 3500m walk at the 1908 Games in London.

The series continues every Wednesday and Saturday in July.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 27 Sep 2016 00:04:42 Processing Time: 684ms