Sportsperson of the Year Finalist: Alison Shanks

By David Leggat

Every day this week we feature the finalists for the Herald Sportsperson of the Year. The top sportsperson will be revealed in the Weekend Herald on Saturday.

Alison Shanks. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Alison Shanks. Photo / Brett Phibbs

New Zealand's track cyclists came away from the Commonwealth Games in Delhi happy but also slightly disappointed.

They had equalled their best Games medal haul of nine, from Auckland 20 years ago, but they'd have liked a more golden hue to their collection.

The solitary gold medal - to go with five silver and three bronze - came after five days of racing, from Alison Shanks.

New Zealand's recent history in the women's 3000m individual pursuit is a proud one.

Sarah Ulmer won back-to-back Commonwealth Games golds in 1998 and 2002 before her ultimate triumph in the Olympic final in Athens in 2004, during which she broke her own world record.

Shanks is her successor in the gut-busting 12-lap sprint.

At the Melbourne Games four years ago, she finished a tick off the bronze and repeated that at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Winning the world title last year pointed to good things for the 2012 Games in London.

However her event was subsequently scrubbed from the programme by the International Cycling Union, so Shanks, who turns 28 on Monday, will now turn to the team pursuit to chase her Olympic ambitions.

Blessed with a range of sporting gifts, Shanks represented Otago in netball and basketball. She also attained two degrees from that city's university.

But her focus is cycling. In Delhi Shanks beat Northern Ireland's Wendy Houvenaghel to win the gold.

Shanks began slowly - trailing Houvenaghel by .7s one-third through the final - but turned on the heat in the second kilometre and won impressively, in 3:30.875, fractionally outside the Games record and 1.26s quicker than Houvenaghel.

It seemed a repeat of the world final last year in Poland when Shanks again had Houvenaghel's measure.

Australia won 12 golds in 14 events in Delhi. Shanks and Malaysia's Josiah Ng were the only riders to break the green and gold grip.

Elsewhere, Shanks would have hoped for better than fourth at the world championships in Copenhagen, but won the national title in a New Zealand record of 3:30.1 and a World Cup round in Beijing at the start of the year.

Shanks was also part of the bronze medal-winning pursuit team at the world champs in a world record time.

Shanks admitted her Delhi gold was particularly special given she won't be riding her event in London.

"I'll be savouring this individual medal for now."

- NZ Herald


Who do you think is a worthy New Zealand Sportsperson of the Year for 2010? Email us at sportrac@nzherald.co.nz.

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