Australian Cycling Team hit pause in wake of AOC announcement

The Australian Cycling Team will be entering a period of "one step at a time" following the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) announcement the nation won't be participating in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as currently scheduled.

2016 Rio Olympic Games Track Cycling Day 1 team sprint Australia

The Australian sprint team lost to France in the bronze medal final at Rio 2016 Source: Getty / Getty Images

Speaking on a conference call, Simon Jones - Performance Director of the Australian Cycling Team - talked about a number of subjects, with the main theme being one of taking things slowly and not committing too soon to action in the current coronavirus crisis.

“Clearly the decision yesterday by the AOC not to participate in the 2020 Games came as a pretty big shock,” Jones said.

“At this stage I think you need to let people absorb the information. Given that we won’t be competing in the Games and the Games aren’t cancelled at the moment.

“We’re going to go for a period of pause and we’re not going to be pushing ideas at the moment.”

The news has been conveyed to the affected athletes by the AOC and the immediate concern for Jones, and the Australian Cycling Team, was the well-being and mental health for the athletes and staff.

“Everyone will deal with this in their own way,” he said.

“They know where the support is, they know who to contact. They have their family, friends, coaches and our pool of staff that includes a performance psychologist.”

The high performance staff have been on high alert in recent times, with one member of the support staff for the cycling team testing positive for coronavirus, with more testing and severe procedures to limit the spread of the virus hampering the team’s preparation.

“We had been putting in place some pretty severe social distancing measures,” Jones said.

“We restructured the track and emailed people about not just how to train but to operate and adhere to the rules that we’d been publishing.

“There were a lot of constraints on training and I think the decision was right by the AOC. It’s a big call but it puts the health and safety of the athletes and staff as the highest priority.”

The Australian Cycling Team is nearly entirely funded by grants from Sport Australia, and was set to be funded for this Olympic period.

With the changed time frame for the Olympics if they're rescheduled, Jones doesn’t yet know if funding will be available for athlete scholarships, staff salaries or program costs into the future.

If as most suspect, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be postponed as a whole, they will likely be re-scheduled to a similar time slot in 2021, likely around July or August.

While there is no precedent for this, and information coming out of the International Olympic Committee is that the Games will proceed as scheduled, planning for a 2021 Olympics is something Jones is looking into.

“We’ll start planning for a northern summer 2021 Games,” Jones said.

“Our advice is at the moment is to not make quick decisions. We don’t need to, and I think we can really look at options and avoid jumping into decisions.

“We’ve got a lot of questions from an athlete and qualification point of view and a lot of these are unknown at the moment. Given the timeframe we’re working towards, a northern summer 2021, we’ll take it one step at a time.

“AOC have been in touch with us and will be in touch to discuss things like nation qualification places. We’ve already named the track team, what’s the situation there… so at the moment we don’t know and we’re going to be working through that in the short-term period.”

The process of training and building towards the Olympics has been one built for years by the Australian Cycling Team with the squad building and continuously referencing the one goal of the Tokyo Olympics in all of their efforts.

With the long, slow build to Tokyo a major theme of Jones’ program for track cycling success in particular, the question was asked how the reshaping of the training goals of the athletes would take place.  

“We’ll be having those conversations, we just got the news last night,” he said.

“I think the first thing to do is look at the options. I think their well-being and mental state is the number one thing.

“This impacts people in different ways and I don’t want us to be steamrolling into training conversations at the moment when we don’t need to.”

The main takeaway from Jones’ statements was that plenty of time is going to be taken to work out the plan of action going forward, with major decisions to be delayed for months until there is more concrete information.

“We’ve already split this into a few phases. The next few months where I think we don’t really need to make big decisions. If you think about the next Olympic Games, that’s going to be 16 months away," Jones said.

“We’re encouraging people to go through and think about their on and off-bike goals. Some are studying, some are thinking of retiring… we’re just trying to slow it down and I think it’s a message people like to hear.

“If we make decisions now, they might not be the right decisions in a few months time or perhaps when you look back on your career. The message we have is ‘take stock, make sure you’re ok mentally and come up with options’, then we can put those in place once we get more certainty.”

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5 min read
Published 24 March 2020 at 1:30pm
By Jamie Finch-Penninger