Since opening its doors in 2002, the velodrome at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland, has welcomed athletes from the world over as they train to realise their sporting dreams.
For many, that dream has been to compete at the Olympic Games, a dream that is about to come true for four of the UCI WCC’s current track athletes: they are putting the final touches to their preparation before flying to Tokyo for the Olympic track cycling competitions at the the Izu Velodrome in Shuzenji, Shizuoka Prefecture (2-8 August).
All four are competing in the Olympics for the first time and all in the keirin and sprint: Kwesi Browne and Nicholas Paul represent Trinidad and Tobago, Jaïr Jestyn Tjon En Fa will race for Suriname, while Jean Spies swaps his UCI WCC kit for the national South African colours.
At the UCI WCC, the athletes have been coached by the centre’s resident coach Craig MacLean (GBR), who won team sprint silver in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. After a track cycling career in which he won eight UCI World Championship medals (including gold in the team sprint in 2002), MacLean enjoyed success as a para-cycling tandem pilot, winning gold in the sprint at the London 2012 Paralympics as a pilot for Anthony Kappes.
Below we introduce his four Olympic athletes:
It’s not necessarily easy to become a track cyclist in a country that does not have a track. Which is why Jaïr moved to Miami (USA) at the age of 18. Two-and-a-half years ago, he attended a talent identification camp at the UCI WCC and was invited to come back and train for the Olympic Games.
What does he appreciate most at the training centre in Aigle? “Just to have team mates who keep pushing you. It makes you a lot better training amongst friends and having people to hang out with in training, and going to races with a team, with a mechanic, to have help… it’s amazing.
“I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics but coming from Suriname that seemed like an impossible dream to have. Then when I saw Njisane Phillip (TTO) at the Olympics (in London 2012) I saw it should be possible and that’s when I started working towards it.”
After riding BMX, mountain bike and road as a youngster, Spies got his hands on a second-hand track bike at the age of 14 and was immediately hooked. He has dedicated the last five years to qualifying for the Olympics, the last 18 months at the UCI WCC where he has learned to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
“I’ve got a good group of riders around me. It’s like racing World Champs at every training session! It’s been good fun, really hard but very rewarding at the same time.”
He goes to Tokyo with every intention of having fun while giving it his all: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, so let’s savour every moment we possibly can.”
Like Jaïr, Kwesi Browne – who played football, did track and field, and swam - was inspired to concentrate on track cycling after seeing Njisane Phillip at the London 2012 Olympics: “I was like, ‘I want to be like that guy, everyone watching me compete, on the Olympic scene, on the world stage’.”
Putting his other passions aside – football, track & field, swimming – he concentrated on track cycling and has made the most of his time at the UCI WCC: “I love training with this group. Off the bike we’re friends. Once we get on the bike, we’re still friends but not as much! That’s what I love about our group. We push each other day in day out on the track, in the gym, in everything we do.”
He has specific time goals in mind for the flying 200m and aims to make the keirin final because “once you get into the keirin final, anything can happen.”
This young Trinidadian can thank a football injury for his Olympic qualification. Taking up cycling as part of his rehabilitation, he fell in love with it and never looked back.
“I love to win so it’s like I need to go to the Olympics and try to win for Trinidad and Tobago. So that’s my goal,” says Paul who holds the World Record for the flying 200m. As an aside, he broke the record at the 2019 Pan-American Cycling Championships in Bolivia, just minutes after Jaïr Jestyn Tjon En Fa had established a new mark.
“I think everyone wants a win. Once I get there (to Tokyo), I’m just going to try my best to perform as well as I can and to execute. Once I execute, I will be happy.”
Watch the full interviews with Jaïr Jestyn Tjon En Fa and Jean Spies here and the full interviews with Kwesi Browne and Nicholas Paul here.