Cycling: What could have been for Shanks

Alison Shanks after her first UCI World Championship in 2009.
Alison Shanks after her first UCI World Championship in 2009.

Alison Shanks would be within her rights to rock up outside the Union Cycliste Internationale, cycling's governing body headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, and stage a protest.

The 31-year-old has retired from cycling but few could feel more aggrieved that the event in which she excelled - the 3000m individual pursuit - was suddenly removed from the Olympic agenda in December 2009, the year she became world champion.

Shanks moved to the team pursuit, which, despite a disappointing fifth at the London Olympics, had its own podium success at world championship level. She also became the Commonwealth Games IP champion in 2010 and world champion again in 2012.

However, when she sits down to one of her favourite Thai meals with a red wine, or crepes and coffee for breakfast in home town Dunedin, part of her must ponder what it would have been like to step onto an Olympic podium.

Gary Anderson was the first cyclist to medal for New Zealand at an Olympics with bronze in the men's 4000m IP in Barcelona. Sarah Ulmer took the step to gold in the IP at Athens in 2004 while Hayden Roulston secured IP silver at Beijing where Shanks, new to the sport having made the transition from netball and basketball in 2005, came fourth.

Shanks was a relentless competitor. It's understandable she would retire rather than manage her ongoing hip injury rehabilitation to go to Glasgow for the sake of adding another line to her CV. She wanted to win. The post-Olympic blog on her website reflects that uncompromising attitude.

"Unfortunately, I can't miraculously make my disappointment of not winning a medal disappear. When you work so hard for something and then fail to make it a reality it leaves you empty and pondering. But that's the nature of the Olympics... in that cut-throat environment you have to put performances in perspective, otherwise it would eat you up and kill you."

BikeNZ didn't help matters when in April 2013, the Herald on Sunday revealed the women's component of the national track cycling team was not scheduled to compete at another major event until the Commonwealth Games in July 2014 - despite BikeNZ being allocated $3.9 million in high performance funding for the year with similar amounts forecast longer term.

BikeNZ was hindered by the UCI's restrictive rules which required teams to send athletes to all three World Cup events to qualify for the world championships. Previously two were enough. That put a strain on travel budgets.

At the time Shanks acknowledged it was a setback: "It will be bloody hard not going to the world championships for two straight years. We were disappointed with our London result but I still felt we were gaining momentum in an event which other countries are throwing money at. A number of other countries will get the jump on us.

"Fortunately the squad can still focus on a domestic programme. That enables you to get a lot of data off the bike but the lack of international competition is worrying. It is hard to maintain the motivation to train if you are not going to race the best in the world."

So it has proved, but hopefully Shanks will not be lost to the sport or the Olympic movement. She would be a forthright proponent about what it takes to achieve at the highest level. The only thing she's missing, through no fault of her own, is an Olympic medal around her neck.

- Herald on Sunday

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