"Walla Walla" Kersten at Sydney Thousand

Ben Kersten with coach Gary Sutton, promoting the Sydney Thousand

Ben Kersten with coach Gary Sutton, promoting the Sydney Thousand (Image credit: Les Clarke)

Track cycling champion Ben Kersten has earned the tag "Walla Walla" after his win from the scratch mark in the Sydney Cup On Wheels, at Dunc Gray Velodrome, last Saturday night. Kersten, 24, of Wollongong, is named after the 1930s pacer who won from seemingly impossible positions after conceding huge starts in handicap races. The expression "Starting further behind than Walla Walla" was written into the Australian vernacular decades ago and lives on today.

The similarity with the horse stems from the fact Kersten - in the space of 12 months - has won two Sydney Cups, the Melbourne Cup on Wheels and the Austral Wheelrace, all from the back mark while giving away starts of up to 230 metres. Next Sunday afternoon at Dunc Gray velodrome, Kersten will line up on the mark of absolute scratch in the rebirth of the historic Sydney Thousand, first run at the SCG in 1903 before a crowd of 54,000 - more than 12,000 greater than today's ground capacity.

Facing Kersten will be World and Olympic Champions from Germany, France, Japan, Korea, Zimbabwe and New Zealand, as well as the cream of Australia in the form of state champions. "I take every race as it comes - I know I have to pass every rider in order to win," said Kersten who will also contest two other races on Sunday, the aces international keirin and the aces scratch race. "No one told 'Walla Walla' he could not win giving such big starts away, nor will I hear of it in my case," he added.

Ironically, Walla Walla is the best known winner of a Sydney Thousand, not one of the many bike riders who have sweated and strained over the years. Records show the equine legend winning a Sydney Thousand harness race in 1930 at Harold Park Paceway.

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