Since making his Olympic debut in 2012, Matthew Glaetzer has gone from strength to strength on the track. Alongside experienced campaigner Anna Mears, Glaetzer is Australia’s leading medal hope in the sprint events at the UCI Track World Championships in London next week.
Glaetzer is coming into the competition off the back of a strong season that has seen him take two national titles and finish the year as the top-ranked sprinter in the world. With his second Olympic Games just five months away, he is determined to send out a message in the Lee Valley VeloPark that he made his debut in by adding to his team sprint world title of 2012.
“Performing at these World Championships not only sets your place in the team but it sends a bit of a message to the international competitors that we’re here for business, and we’re not just here to make up the numbers. It’s a big benchmark event with our team internally and telling the other countries that we’re here to beat them,” Glaetzer told Cyclingnews from his London-based hotel, where he and the rest of the Australian squad have been based since the start of this week.
Glaetzer and his teammates have spent the last few days adjusting to the new time zone and the freezing temperatures, a shock to the system after the heat of the Australian summer. The travelling means that they spent some time off the bike, but they were finally able to get the legs spinning and test out the boards on Wednesday.
The Adelaide rider will be competing in three events next week, the team and individual sprints, and the Keirin. He’ll be in action on the opening day in the team sprint, with the medals up for grabs in the evening session. Australia has entered a very young team for the discipline, with an average age of just under 22 [21.75 to be exact]. Still only 23, Glaetzer is the experienced hand in the line-up and they are not sure what they’ll be able to produce on the night.
“We were just talking about it the other day, and we figured it out that I’ve been to more World Championships than the other three combined. I am technically the old bloke of the team, but it’s alright, we have a joke about it,” said Glaetzer.
“It’s difficult to say [what we can do]. Top four is definitely where we’re aiming, but where we’ll pop out at the end, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m really excited to see what happens. We’ll be really happy if we get into the top four.”
One of the reasons for the average age of the team being so low is Scott Sunderland’s decision to focus on the road and the absence of Shane Perkins. It has been a tough year for Perkins after he was taken out of the sprint selection for the World Cups, and his omission from the World Championships came as little surprise. There is a slim chance that he could make it into the team for Rio, but it’s a long shot.
“It’s a difficult situation to be in. He obviously won the national Keirin race. Myself and another teammate didn’t race it and that always puts question marks in selectors heads,” explained Glaetzer. “At the end of the day, it was about the times that he did compared to everybody else. He had to pull out a standout performance. It was up to the selectors to decide whether it was good enough. It’s always hard in elite sport; it’s so cutthroat. You just have to be 100th slower than your teammate and they’ll get the spot over you. It’s disappointing because he’s been a great teammate of mine for many years, ever since I got into the programme. I feel for him a bit not getting the spot. He’s a top bloke, and I’m sure that he’ll be fighting for other things.”
Glaetzer’s plane ticket to Brazil appears a near certainty, and he’s expecting to be doing the same as he is in London and competing across the board in the sprint events. It is a big difference to his first time out in the 2012 Olympic Games, where he was the new kid on the block with little expectation on his shoulders. This time around, his performances this season make him one of the men to beat, and his goals are much loftier.
“Last time I was just excited to get selected, and I did one event in the team sprint and I sat back and watched Perko [Shane Perkins] race the team sprint and keirin but this time I’m doing everything, I would think, but that’s obviously an assumption,” he explained. “Every athlete goes to the Olympics to win gold. It’s hard to say that though because there is a long road between here and the Olympics. That’s ultimately what it’s all about but at the end of the day, I’ll be happy if I race well.
“I want to be fighting for medals, I want to be up there, and I don’t want to be eliminated prior to the finals. That’s really where my head is at; that’s a good goal of trying to get into that top-four zone.”