Track sprinter Shane Perkins made headlines in February when he revealed his intentions to ride for Russia and pursue his Tokyo 2020 dream. Perkins rode the 2012 Olympic Games with Australia, winning bronze in the sprint, but found himself on the outer with the national body leading into the Rio Olympic Games.
Toying with the idea of retirement in 2016, Perkins decided to extend his career with Russia and like his father Daryl in 1964, ride in a Tokyo Olympic Games.
"Firstly, I am extremely grateful that I have this opportunity to continue what I love. Especially the opportunity to make it to the Tokyo Olympics," Perkins told Cyclingnews of his change. "Unfortunately, I wanted to do it with Australia but I wasn't going to be able to. You only get one life and Russia has come along to support and has the belief in me to chase that dream."
A gold medallist at the world championships, Commonwealth Games and national champions, Perkins' time in the national squad came to an end in 2015. Despite winning a third keirin title in 2016, the writing was on the wall for the 30-year-old, with Cycling Australia opting for a younger group of sprint riders for the Rio games.
During his career, Perkins has regularly ridden the Japanese Keirin circuit, expanding his social and professional network in the sport. Through keirin and international meets, Perkins befriended Denis Dmitriev and with the 2017 sprint world champion in recent seasons, would joke about riding for Russia to prolonge his career.
In December of 2016, the casual conversations turned into formal meetings with Russian officials. During these initial meetings, Perkins explained that he was keen to stress his gratitude for the opportunity and wanted to first prove his value before accepting any financial assistance from the Russian Federation.
"I am extremely grateful and excited. It obviously hasn't all been easy. It has been pretty busy year really and I've been funding all of this myself. So I have had to fight pretty hard in that regard to keep racing the Japanese Keirin and putting those funds back into my cycling and meetings in Russia," he said. "From my side, when we did meet initially in December and they asked me what support do I want, I said to them that until I prove myself in terms of results, like I have at the national and European championships, I don't want any support. I want to earn it. That made it harder financially but that is who I am and I wanted to earn my way and earn the support that I wouldn't get once the results came.
"This year has been tough in that regard and obviously no matter who you are or if you are a confident person, you always ask yourself 'did I make the right choice?' or 'what am I doing?' Sometimes you do have those thoughts but to me, it has felt right. I knew it would be a big challenge but I am also lucky that I have a great family, and I have great friends around me that have given me great advice and supported my decision."
While several Rusian athletes have left their motherland and taken up Australian citizenship, 2000 Olympic Games pole vault silver medallist Tatiana Grigorieva a successful example, moves in the other director are a rarity. Although Perkins is now a Russian citizenship and is embracing the language and culture to assimilate, he stresses that this is not in spite of Australia.
"I really hate hearing that he changed 'allegiances' or this sort of thing. It doesn't sound right," said Perkins as he spotted a Koala in his backyard mid-sentence. "It is not like I have been angry at Australia and it's 'bugger Australia, I am going to Russia'. It was never like that. I hadn't been in the national team for the last two years with Australia."
Perkins' first outing in the red, blue and white of Russia was at the national championships in Moscow in August this year. He won gold in the team sprint, finished third in the sprint, and then won the keirin. He then rode his first European championships in October, winning silver in the keirin and losing the bronze medal team sprint final against the Dutch alongside Dmitriev and Pavel Yakushevskiy.
"You have to be focused and as positive as you can to go out there and kick some arse," he said. "This year I have sort of shown that by winning the national titles and unfortunately I didn't get gold at the Europeans, which would have been great, but getting silver was a pretty good start to things. We have more than two and a half years to Tokyo so it is a good start to things.
"All these people who have taken a risk in bringing me on board, it was about me giving something back to say thanks. I am wearing it with pride and they believe in me and believe I can help them win a gold medal in Tokyo. That is what I want and that I what I am there for.
The national and European championships results sealed Perkins' place in the Russian team and secured financial support from the federation, confirmation of his decision to continue his career having considered hanging up the wheels.
"The 2015-16 years were quite tough and to be honest, even though I knew there was this opportunity coming in 2017, there were still a lot of questions that I had," said Perkins. "There were times were I was saying to myself that maybe I should retire. That would be the easy way. I could walk away from the sport happy. I've been to the Olympics, Commonwealth Games; I've been world champion. I can walk away and say I did the best I could but deep down in my heart, that is not me. I was fighting against that for quite a while and I was in a bit of a rut. It was a struggle to get through that and motivate myself to do that. "
Perkins credits his family and friends along with coach Vladimir Khozov and his new Russian teammates for helping him through the challenging two years. Following his successful return to international competition, including a PB in the second wheel for the team sprint at the Europeans, Perkins explained the enthusiasm is back and he is ready to retake his place as one of the world's premier track sprinters.
"I wasn't enjoying the training because I couldn't see an end game to it. There is the big goal of Tokyo 2020 and it is within reach. We also have world titles in-between that. I have the fire back in my belly to win those colourful stripes back and get myself back on the top step. Perko 2.0 I guess you might call it. It is an exciting time ahead."
In November, Perkins and Dmitriev will complete their Japanese keirin contracts for the season, prepare for the December Track World Cup in Chile, head to a training camp, then race the Minsk Track World Cup.
"At the moment with the UCI rules, I can do the 2019 Worlds but I can't do 2018," he said. "For me, Minsk and Chile are the big races for the season and then I'll be going back into base training and potentially I'll have another contract in Japan and whether that fits into our schedule.
"It is now where I can 100 percent focus on the Olympic Games and the Japanese Keirin isn't a necessity to keep racing my bike with my results now. I do have some support from the Russian Federation, which is great. I can concentrate on training and making those improvements we need to make. We have three years so if we can get one percent better each year, that will be great."
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