Whatever happens in the race for the bronze medal in the team pursuit tonight, an Australian will be on the podium in Tokyo. It’ll be a battle of the ANZACs: NZL vs AUS… and Jordan Kerby will be a rider in focus.
Let’s cast our minds back to June 2018 as we look towards the bronze medal ride in the men’s team pursuit at the Tokyo Olympics. It was, after all, a time when the wrecking ball was going through the Australian cycling team and good riders were being jettisoned – despite proven international success.
Here’s a little reminder from a feature about a pursuit specialist from three and a bit years ago:
“I received a call from Cycling Australia saying my scholarship wouldn’t be renewed and the predominant reason for that being that they don’t think I can improve to the level required for Tokyo 2020. Now, they have their opinion and that’s fine; I disagree with it – and that’s also fine.”
Jordan Kerby was showing considerable restraint with his commentary about being flicked by the Australian Cycling Team. It happened a little over a year from when he won a rainbow jersey in the individual pursuit in Hong Kong while wearing the green and gold of his homeland. That was when Simon Jones first appeared at a velodrome wearing a polo shirt from the Australian team.
The new high performance director from Britain had only just taken on the role after a considerable (and yet utterly confusing) recruitment process conducted by what was then known as Cycling Australia. Jones’ arrival had an immediate impact on the national team; he wanted things done his way or not at all.
Exactly how and why Kerby was singled out for exclusion from a program he always seemed on the periphery of remains unclear, but he took the rejection in his stride and looked for solutions.
On that Monday in June 2018, Tim Decker phoned Kerby with the news.
“I like to think that my relationship with Tim is pretty good,” Kerby told RIDE Media a few days later. “He said the program was being restricted, in relation to the number of riders allowed, and that there wasn’t room for me because they don’t think I’ll get to that level by the time Tokyo comes around… Okay, that’s fine,” he continued, “I understand that there’s nothing I can do to change that now: what’s done is done.”
Although shaken and shocked, Jordan remained composed and considered when discussing the news. In the back of his mind there was an alternative… but before phoning Cycling NZ, he was trying to get his head around the news of his exclusion.
“The way in which I was told was very abrupt and, to me, it came from nowhere,” said Kerby in June 2018. “They obviously had a lot of meetings about it and discussed it over time but to me it was a surprise.
“I thought, ‘I’m a Commonwealth Games gold medallist in the team pursuit, having ridden 3:52 a couple of times…’ and there’s only a handful of men on the planet who have ever done that. In any other country I dare say I’d still be in the program.”
As he said, what’s done is done. And rather than participate in a pointless battle with his original national team, the Australian team – the team with which he won a world championship title only a year earlier – he looked for options. But first, he had to deal with the upset caused by being dropped from the Aussie team.
“They’ve essentially ended my career with no notice and I’ve had no say.”
Kerby wasn’t alone. Another individual pursuit gold medallist at the world championships, Rebecca Wiasak, was also flicked from the national program in the blitz instigated by Jones.
“Our goal is as clear now as it was when I started,” Jones explained in a press release issued on the day the news was delivered to Kerby and Wiasak. “Success at the Olympics in 2020 and 2024 is our goal, and we define ‘success’ as Olympic gold. Our plan is all about continuing our focussed trajectory to Tokyo and beyond.”
Change of plans: Kerby become a Kiwi
Within a few months of being told he was no longer part of the Australian Cycling Team, Jordan Kerby had relocated to the country his mother is from, New Zealand. It wasn’t an easy process; he had to abandon a business he’d built, coaching riders from his base in Brisbane, and switch national allegiances. But he did it all because he believed he was capable of winning a medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Tonight we’ll see if that becomes a reality, in a race featuring both of the national teams Kerby has raced for: AUS vs NZL.
“There are a lot of people who are going to have questions about why this has happened to me,” concluded Kerby about his unceremonious dumping back in 2018. “At the end of the line, I just want to tell everyone that I’m not going away. I want to keep going in this sport and I’m not just going to disappear.”
If the first round of the team pursuit in Tokyo is anything to go by, the Kiwis hold the upper hand for their showdown against Australia. Kerby, Regan Gough, Campbell Stewart and Aaron Gate posted the second fastest team pursuit time in history overnight in Japan. Racing against Italy on the second day of track racing at the Olympics in Tokyo, both teams broke the previous world record: Italy fastest in 3:42.307, then New Zealand in 3:42.297!
Not much in it, huh?
Australia, to the credit of the quartet who backed up after a messy time during qualifying – one that included a re-ride because of a crash – broke the national record in round one. Leigh Howard was the starter (and Alex Porter rested after his crash on Monday) and he was joined by Sam Welsford, Kelland O’Brien and Luke Plapp.
The Aussie quartet tore around the velodrome, 16 laps completed in an impressive time of 3:44.902 – fast, but not quite on par with the Italians or Kiwis.
The times tell much of the story but there’s more to it than four blokes going fast on their bikes. This race is personal for many involved and one rider in particular will be hoping that the All-Blacks score the win in the battle of the ANZACs. Jordan Kerby has continued his path to the Olympics, and despite what he was told by his former national team a few years, he has indeed been capable of improving for Tokyo.
There will be five Australians racing for bronze tonight, but one of them will be doing all he can to help New Zealand win the medal. Stay tuned, it’s bound to be a compelling competition.
– By Rob Arnold