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A jubilant Anna Meares (Australia)
Timely announcement with government funding under threat
Cycling Australia's high performance program will continue to receive the support of its greatest patron, Gerry Ryan through his company Jayco, with Wednesday's announcement of a "multi-million dollar" funding deal in the lead up to the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympic Games.
Extraordinarily Cyclingnews can reveal the deal was only set to cover the next two years however, just prior to the press conference Ryan decided to commit fully for the Olympic cycle there and then.
The announcement comes hot on the heels of those by New Zealand and Great Britain in the last 24 hours.
Cycling Australia's high performance director, Kevin Tabotta was frank saying that the funding would "put us back in the game" in the aftermath of the London Olympic Games where six medals were won and the nation finished second behind Great Britain on the track medal tally.
"It's not just about Rio," explained Ryan. "It's about all the races and world championships between now and then. I'm just pleased to be able to have the means to assist the program and believe in what Kevin and his staff are doing and give the riders the opportunity to achieve the best."
The funding will cover the re-jigged Jayco-AIS World Tour Academy, previously announced on Cyclingnews, the former Jayco-AIS Continental program along with Track, BMX and Para-cycling.
"What it means for Cycling Australia cannot be understated," said Tabotta. Ryan backed the program coming out of the Beijing campaign and it certainly wasn't a given that his investment would continue heading into Rio. His first foray into investing into Cycling Australia was two decades ago backing Kathy Watt.
"Clearly when you've got more resources you can put stronger systems, better staff, better support for athletes... that's what Gerry's funding allowed us to do. [In London] it allowed us to look into the areas of technology, sport science, our travel plans, our camps overseas - everything was able to come up a notch.
"I don't want to underplay at all the significance of the Australian Sports Commission and the Australian Institute of Sport in this investment model as well but when you get a corporate sponsor come in and top that out the way that Gerry does, and there wouldn't be too many sports in Australia that have this level of investment, from one investor, out of the corporate world. We're very lucky in that sense."
Tabotta's comments were timely for a number of reasons - with the Australian Sports Commission currently reviewing Cycling Australia's funding off the back of the investigation into the body which grew out of the fallout from the United States Anti-Doping Agency's Reasoned Decision documentation. Cycling is a priority sport, along with athletics, rowing and swimming in the eyes of the ASC and for this reason alone, any funding cut would be likely to cost medals - making a funding cut unlikely. It's also important to note that only one other of the priority sports, swimming, last month received a $10 million investment heading into Rio from Australian mining magnate, Gina Rinehart.
Also at Wednesday's announcement, were two "elders" of the Australian cycling fraternity - Anna Meares and Stuart O'Grady, both of whom have benefitted directly from the high performance program while also experiencing different levels of funding.
"One of the big changes that I've noticed in the time that I've been with the Australian Institute of Sport based in Adelaide is really seeing that support structure of staff get bigger and more specific in their roles," explained Meares. "They are world class and leading in their specific field."
O'Grady meanwhile has experienced many structural changes since he was first involved in the high performance program with the AIS in the early 90s.
"It's become a completely different sport almost," said the Paris-Roubaix winner. "Back then we had very limited budget very limited staff and a limited amount of bike riders. Back then I think we had eight track endurance riders; the road program was struggling - there was really no junior development program that I knew of. I was a 16-year-old and we were sponsored by [beer brand] Foster's, I was laughing about that before, it wouldn't go down too well today..."