Shane Kelly is buoyant about the Paris Olympics, saying the signs of life in Australian track cycling are sustainable and real.
Australia has not won gold at an Olympic velodrome since Anna Meares’ sprint heroics at London 2012, while the Tokyo Games two years ago was a disaster.
The track team, long touted as an abundant source of Olympic podium places, could only manage a solitary bronze medal in Tokyo – their worst Games return since 1980.
Alex Porter’s snapped handlebar and painful face plant in team pursuit qualifying in the Japanese capital came to symbolise a campaign that largely went nowhere.
But Kelly, a five-time Olympian and Australian cycling great who now works at the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) as a track coach, likes what he sees in the national program.
The men’s sprint group – Kelly country – dethroned the powerful Netherlands squad to win the team sprint at last year’s world titles and backed that up with silver behind the Dutch a few weeks ago at 2023’s edition in Glasgow.
Matthew Richardson has proved himself the new star in men’s sprinting, and at 31 Matthew Glaetzer is also impressing Kelly ahead of his fourth Olympics.
Alex Manly and Georgia Baker, who won silver in the madison, another Olympic event, are others to catch the coach’s attention.
“Especially the sprinters, they were really at the top end and they will push for gold in Paris,” Kelly told AAP at Wednesday’s VIS open day in Melbourne.
“The endurance crew were pretty good as well – Manly and Baker stepped up and technically, tactically they raced really well.
“Compared to Tokyo, we’re in a much better place. The (Glasgow) worlds were a good sign of where things are at – depth and quality.
“If things are managed well … we’re going to be really in the mix in Paris.”
But no one knows better than Kelly, a three-time Olympic medallist, that Games predictions are fraught with peril.
He went into Atlanta 1996 as the world champion and world record holder in the 1km time trial – no longer a Games event – only for his foot to somehow come out of its pedal at the start.
Kelly was judicious with his comments, given he coaches in the national system, but he is particularly impressed with sprinters Richardson, Glaetzer, Tom Cornish and Leigh Hoffman.
“I don’t like to predict, but in saying that I have a good feeling,” Kelly said.
“We certainly have four good guys who have stepped up – there’s good depth, good quality, good versatility.
“If the stars align, Richo has to be up there.
“Glaetzer is reignited – he’s pushing towards the end of his career, but you don’t rule him out.”
The women’s sprint program is in a development phase, with Kristina Clonan showing her talent by winning silver in the 1km time trial at the worlds.
Alessia McCaig, the latest talent from Bendigo’s famed McCaig cycling clan, is being coached by Kelly as she learns her track craft.
A big focus for Kelly in Paris next year will be Paralympian Emily Petricola, who will aim for an elusive track and road golden double under his coaching.
Petricola finished top of the podium on the track in Tokyo and Glasgow, but could not repeat the achievement on the road at either event.
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