Cycling deserves more recognition
SPORTS TALK BY JOSEPH ROMANOS
Are our track cyclists prophets without honour in their own country?
They’ve been at it again at the world champs in Paris over the past few days, winning so many medals that New Zealand now figures among major track cycling powers.
At home, though, they’re largely unappreciated.
Whereas Rob Waddell, Mahe Drysdale, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, the Evers-Swindell sisters and other rowing champs have become household names, the cyclists fly under the radar.
As I write, the 2015 champs are still in progress, but already Matt Archibald (1km time trial, bronze), Eddie Dawkins (keirin, silver), Pieter Bulling, Alex Frame, Dylan Kennett, Marc Ryan (team pursuit, gold) and Dawkins, Sam Webster and Ethan Mitchell (team sprint, silver) have won medals.
The team sprinters missed gold on a technicality after winning the final.
Yet how many New Zealand sports fans would know, say, Marc Ryan by sight?
The 32-year-old from Timaru has won five world champs medals, including a gold, plus two Olympic medals; or Eddie Dawkins, who has won five world champs medals, including a gold; Simon van Velthooven won an Olympic medal in the keirin plus three world champs medals in the 1km time trial; Alison Shanks won six world champs medals, including two golds in the individual pursuit.
And so it goes on – Sam Webster, Ethan Mitchell, Jesse Sergent, the great Greg Henderson, Aaron Gate, Westley Gough and Lauren Ellis have all won three or more world champs medals. Hayden Roulston won a world champs silver, plus two Olympic silvers.
Of our leading cyclists, only Sarah Ulmer, a brilliant individual pursuiter, has become a genuine national sports identity, following her world and Olympic golds in 2004.
For years New Zealand sent teams to world track cycling champs and battled against the cycling super powers of Europe.
Finally, in 1990, Karen Holliday cracked it when she won a gold in the points race.
But not until 1999 did we win another world champs cycling medal at senior level.
That year Anthony Peden (keirin, silver) and Ulmer (points race, bronze) earned medals.
Since then our pace has picked up to the point where on world champs medal tables, New Zealand regularly finishes among the top six.
Gary Anderson won New Zealand’s first Olympic cycling medal, a bronze in the individual pursuit in 1992.
It wasn’t until Ulmer’s gold in 2004 that another New Zealander made the Olympic podium.
Since then, though, we’ve won four more. Such successes, in a tough international sport, have been largely overlooked at home.
For example, in the Halberg Awards since 1991, rowing has won the supreme award nine times, the sportsman seven, sportswoman once and team nine.
Cycling, a comparable sport on the world stage, has won the supreme award once, the sportswoman twice and has not won the sportsman or team.
I don’t mean to pick on rowing. In fact, I greatly admire the rowers’ consistent excellence. It’s just that the sport is of similar size.
My feeling is that Kiwis just don’t understand how difficult and competitive top track cycling is.