Cycling: A four medal Games haul would be just the beginning

By David Leggat

Mark Elliott. Photo / Greg Bowker
Mark Elliott. Photo / Greg Bowker

London is looming, but a small part of Mark Elliott's mind is already four years further down the line.

In naming a record 15 track riders for the London Olympics in July-August, Bike New Zealand signalled its intentions to be a serious player at the event.

But Bike NZ high performance director Elliott has longer-term thoughts, specifically the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

Bike NZ's well-documented target for London is four medals across the four disciplines. New Zealand's best Olympic cycling haul is two, in Beijing four years ago, when Hayden Roulston took silver in the individual pursuit, then formed part of the pursuit team which won the bronze medal.

However Elliott, while confident of reaching the objective this time around, has big hopes for Rio.

"In 2016 I don't want to be going there thinking about medals," he said yesterday. "It's about knowing you're going to deliver something that's never been done before. London is about medals on the pathway [to Rio].

"We are still a very young programme so I'm upbeat about not only our ability this year but what our future potential will be. That's what makes it exciting."

Riders with years of top-flight competition ahead of them, such as pursuiter Aaron Gate, team sprinter Ethan Mitchell and women's sprinter Natasha Hansen, have Elliott enthused.

At this month's world championships in Melbourne, the New Zealand squad came within a whisker of a 90 per cent personal best achievement across the track squad.

Self-belief took a leap during that week.

"They realise the guys beside them have got two arms and legs, and got a bike like them and there's no difference," Elliott said.

"It's about delivering on the day. Most of the self-belief from all of our team, I'd say, is if they go out and perform to their full potential the results will come.

"That was our priority for the worlds, and that's all we could have asked for. We've got riders at a level now that if they are pb'ing they're in the hunt for medals."

The four-medal goal for London was set four years ago. That was before the individual pursuit, in which New Zealand had strong medal candidates in Alison Shanks and Jesse Sergent, was rubbed off the programme by the International Cycling Union, under orders from the International Olympic Committee to trim its event.

There is a chance that event will return in Rio as there are doubts about the merits of the omnium, which Shane Archbold and Jo Kiesanowksi will ride this year.

Elliott talks of BMX pair Marc Willers and Sarah Walker being strong chances, so too individual time trialler Linda Villumsen, with a range of track possibilities.

This has been no scattergun, hit-and-hope approach, of spreading the expense on the basis that some will come through.

"In any business when you go wide you generally don't hit your target. So we said let's narrow our focus," Elliott said.

That may have been tough on road or mountainbike contenders, for example, but that's the business of hunting medals on which government funding can ultimately hinge.

Elliott's view on bagging four medals in London hasn't changed in the year since Beijing. Indeed, if anything he says he would bump the number up a touch. But he won't.

"You've got to focus on delivering those four, then others may come.

"If you start thinking all of a sudden we can win six, you may negate the four that you really can get."

- NZ Herald

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