Make it happen. Whatever it takes… the ethos of UCI World Cycling Centre BMX coach Liam Phillips is more important than ever for his athletes who have seen their training routine severely disrupted in the last few weeks.
Used to training intensively as a group in Aigle, Switzerland, the UCI WCC BMX trainees suddenly found themselves dispersed throughout the world as the current coronavirus pandemic meant they had to return home.
Former UCI World Champion and three-time Olympian Liam Phillips is now guiding six athletes from a distance: two in Switzerland, two in Japan, one in Denmark and one in Argentina. While he is used to coaching them daily in person, he now relies on text messages, video chats and phone calls with his athletes, some of whom were preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. After a few weeks of distance training, they have found a rhythm.
“I think my role initially was to try and reassure them,” says Liam Phillips. There was so much uncertainty which still exists today. The athletes are all aware of my ethos ‘make it happen’ and ‘whatever it takes’. If your desire is strong enough, you’ll find a way.”
Each athlete is training in different circumstances depending on the situation in their country. They have also had varying reactions to the postponement of the Olympic Games and the UCI BMX World Championships in Houston (USA).
“You can’t expect each athlete to act or feel the same way regarding this news,” says their coach. Some were still super motivated and wanted to keep pushing, while others needed time to process it. So, each athlete is currently working towards different objectives with varying workloads and at different intensities.
“This should have been a really busy period of racing for them and that is ultimately what they enjoy doing. But if you are to be successful in the world of BMX, you have to be extremely resilient. They will deal with this and look to what is ahead.
“I have been really impressed by the athletes’ focus to keep making progress rather than making excuses,” he concludes.
From the mouths of the athletes
Yoshitaku (Yoshi) Nagasako has trained at the UCI WCC for years and was gearing up for his second Olympic appearance after the Rio 2016 Games. He is now back with his family in Kasaoka, Okayama, and making the most of the situation, which is not yet too drastic: the number of coronavirus victims in his city is low, and his local BMX track is still open.
“I can ride any time I want but there is nobody to train with,” he says. “I am really missing the WCC, it’s the best training facility, and riding my bike with other high-level athletes.
“It is also hard to switch on and off between training and home life. It’s more difficult to focus on training at home when there are distractions and other things around you that you want to do.”
The 26-year-old is not overly perturbed by the postponement of the Olympic Games to 2021: “It’s not a big deal. The priority is everyone’s health and getting through the current situation, to stay strong, happy and fit!”
He intends using the extra year to work on his weak points, and to do this Yoshi is eagerly awaiting delivery of home gym equipment that will make his training more efficient and effective.
Delivery of gym equipment was much easier for Switzerland’s Zoé Claessens, who lives a 45- minute drive from the UCI WCC in Agile and was able to fill the car with equipment from the centre.
“While the others (athletes) were organising plane tickets and packing their bikes, I just called my father to come and get me and in 1h30 I was home!”
The UCI WCC equipment – including a Wattbike – is part of her make-shift gym in the garage. She has found a rhythm which sees her training three hours each morning, followed by stretching and mobility workouts in the afternoon, often via video sessions with the WCC physio and the other athletes.
Although her local track is closed, Zoé does sprint work next to her house, and rides the small pump track in the garden.
Coming from a BMX family – nearly all her brothers and sisters as well as her father are involved in the sport – helps her remain motivated. And while she appreciates spending more time with her family, she is already missing the group training in Aigle.
“Even though I can train in my garage, it’s not the same as when we are several athletes working together with the same aim. At the WCC our coach can really correct us and motivate us. We are a great group of BMXers who can push each other to greater heights.”
While the young athlete, second at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Argentina, was looking forward to the major Olympic stage, the 18-year-old does not view the postponement as too much of a problem: “I am still young and it gives me another year to improve.”
As her coach says: “Make it happen. Whatever it takes.”