Australia looks beyond cycling to replenish women’s track team before Paris Olympics

Australias Anna Meares competes in the Womens sprint qualifying track cycling event at the Velodrome during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 14 2016 AFP Odd ANDERSEN Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSENAFP via Getty Images
Anna Meares at her last Olympics in 2016 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Facing a depleted women’s track team after the retirement of two pivotal figures since the Rio Olympics – Anna Meares and Stephanie Morton – Australia is turning outside the sport of cycling to try and quickly build a gold medal winning women’s team sprint squad for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Meares, who won six medals over four Olympics, retired after Rio in 2016 while Stephanie Morton made the decision to walk away from the sport after the Olympics was postponed last year. Her 33-year-old team sprint partner Kaarlee McCulloch, who won a bronze medal in London, also has said she’s thinking about whether or not she’ll commit to another Olympic cycle after Tokyo. 

That means the key figures that have driven Australia’s sprint success have either left the sport or are in doubt for Paris and the replacements for these athletes with the power to fight for medals in the sprint, team sprint and keiren events aren’t waiting in the wings. 

That’s why the Australian Cycling Team is looking for candidates with high levels of leg power, speed and acceleration from sports like running, jumping or weightlifting to try and fill the void. 

“Taking athletes new to the sport to the Olympic podium in a single cycle is a lofty goal, and we are looking for athletes that thrive on this degree of challenge, people who want to step out and find the next level in who they are and what they’re capable of,” said Lynne Munro, head of the Australian Cycling Team's Olympic Fast Track Program.

“This is an exciting program, taking targeted action and using innovative approaches to ensure we deliver a world-beating women’s team sprint for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games while leveraging the opportunity to make a difference for the future of women’s sprint.”

Given that even the success of Australia’s women’s sprint track team hasn’t been enough to drive the uptake of  the sport, providing an ongoing pipeline of athletes ready to step up, the program is also looking beyond recruitment to a change in approach to help build participation and retention, with Munro focussed on building an environment purpose built for women. 

“It’s a bold vision, but there is a big opportunity here to lead the way, not only for our sport but shaping the design of performance environments for women,” said Munro.

“As one of the most successful nations in track sprint, we have a depth of knowledge and experience to capitalise on, and we will be pushing the boundaries of our coaching and preparation practices within the program.” 

The depletion of the women’s sprint ranks come at a time when the places in the team have increased, with the women’s sprint team increasing from two to three at Paris to bring it in line with the men’s numbers.

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