Denmark heads into the Olympic Games track events in Beijing, China this weekend as a gold medal contender for the first time in decades. Cyclingnews' Paul Verkuylen spoke to national coach Heiko Salzwedel about the team's remarkable turn around.
Four years ago Denmark didn't even qualify for the team's pursuit at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, nor did it take part in the UCI World Track Championship. This weekend, however, Demark is one of the favourites to take the Olympic team pursuit title at the Laoshan Velodrome in Beijing. It's secret? World renowned coach Heiko Salzwedel, the German who has performed similar miracles for the Australian and British programmes in the past.
Back in 2004, Denmark was turning in team pursuit times around the 4.12.00 seconds, way off the pace of any championship. This year it finished second in the UCI Track World Championships behind host nation Great Britain in 3.59.40, after qualifying fastest in 3.57.73. A program developed by Salzwedel was the catalyst for the nation's vast improvements.
"I asked for only a few things before I took the job as the Danish coach," Salzwedel said. "I wanted funding to go to all the World Cups, and approval to have training camps whenever I needed them. Also I wanted to incorporate an altitude program."
Salzwedel took a position with the Danish federation in 2005 after a difficult stint with the British squad. His goal was to drag the nation out of the doldrums and into a world class squad capable of rivalling the more powerful nations like Great Britain and Australia.
Salzwedel is no stranger to such a task. He was placed in a similar situation in the 1990s when he took the role as head road coach for Australia's track team.
Salzwedel believes that a family atmosphere is vital in order for a team to improve and be competitive. "It is very important to keep the same group together," he said. "You need to find a good balance, not to spend too much time together so you don't get on each others' nerves.
"At this stage, the Olympic spirit binds them together," he added. "It is more than just having a working relationship with these boys. It is like a family and I think that that is essential."