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Road To 2012 British Cycling’s BMX Olympic Academy

by Luke Webber [December 12, 2011]

Road To 2012 British Cycling’s BMX Olympic AcademyFollowing the reintroduction of British Cycling’s Olympic Academy to BMX, Luke Webber talks to coach Grant White about what the return of the highest tier of performance programme for developing young athletes means for London 2012 and beyond.

This time last year, Grant White was less than certain of British BMX’s opportunity to create an Olympic Academy. Speaking to a group of Olympic Development Programme riders in their final year, British Cycling’s Olympic BMX coach described a transitional period during 2012, where the ODP would be extended for an additional twelve months, with no Academy setup.

The only way to avoid the situation was a concerted effort by riders, backed unconditionally by British Cycling performance staff, to prove there was a need for the Academy to return. And one year on White can be content with the best possible outcome – but it wasn’t without sacrifice.

“Last year at the ODP camp we knew the Academy was on the cards, but for it to become a reality the riders needed to continue to show their commitment to the Programme. Even though it is quite a ruthless environment British Cycling will support the talent if it is there, but the current collection of riders had to step up and prove the requirement for an Academy existed.”

After delivering a few home truths at the 2010 ODP induction camp, White is satisfied that a year of achievement proved the demand for an Academy; both in terms of riders working hard toward that goal and the production of results on an international stage.

White pinpoints Abbie Taylor’s second place at the junior World Championships, Kyle Evans progressing from the time trial stage of a senior World Cup – with Curtis Manaton and Grant Hill not far from making it through in front of a lot of big names, and a bunch of Junior European Series final results from all ODP athletes through the 2011 season.

“They have a long way to go” White quantifies, “but from the group of six you could get a couple of pretty special elite results.

“We have some really talented kids who have been doing some really hard work on the Olympic Development Programme over the last three years. They have continued to improve and improve and that’s showing; they are pretty much the fastest riders in the UK and have gone on to do well internationally, so I think it’s really encouraging that a full time Programme, full facility and full support staff now exist to support this talent. It shows British Cycling’s commitment to BMX.”

But making the decisions wasn’t without some initial concerns – not least what the impact would be on the current performance setup.

“The one biggest consideration was not to take focus away from London 2012, especially as there will be a natural crossover in training between both the Academy and the Podium riders. Obviously Shanaze is a fantastic talent and has a really strong chance of being successful at the Olympics, so we wanted to make sure that wasn’t being taken away from her in any way. That’s why we took the decision to employ Marcus Bloomfield as a part-time coach, so the Academy has everything in place for the young riders to develop, while complimenting the 2012 campaign.”

In the short term at least, White expects a learning period for the new Academy inductees who will race two European Championship rounds in early 2012, alongside round two of the World Cup and finally the World Championships – the biggest challenge during this period adapting to Academy life

“Where these riders are at in terms of becoming a successful elite international rider they still have a lot to do, they have to get their basics, their groundwork done; which consists of all physical and technical training, how a professional athlete lives and applies themselves to all areas, learning how to cook and look after themselves, basically that grounding. But there is definitely potential there for these guys to come through and this is what the Academy is going to be about, it’s day in day out learning to be a pro athlete.

“These kids, they are living away from home for the first time and it could possibly have a negative effect on their results in the short term until they learn to deal with that. There is a lot they will be faced with in the next six months and for the first time these kids who need to grow are racing against men.

“But I still think there is potential for today’s Academy riders to go to the Olympics, All the riders are on the long list, they know that, they know 2016 is more the target but there is a good period of time between now and the Games, they have come on to a full time programme to progress as a professional athlete; there is a lot that comes with that and one opportunity is the London 2012.

"The Academy guys don’t have a choice, that’s the environment they are in now. But if they want to go and just ride some tracks and muck around, ride some jumps and just have a laugh riding a BMX full time, rather than be professional about it, then unfortunately they won’t last. The journey should be enjoyable, but at the same time it’s going to be a bunch of hard work."