From a youngster in the country to five Olympic Games and the youngest Australian of the Year, Shane Kelly talks about the three coaches that influenced his cycling. With such an amazing career, he now passes on his key lessons as a coach himself.
Coach 1 – Colin Kelly
Growing up in the bush, if it wasn’t cycling, it definitely would have been football or tennis. Country families always keep busy with one thing or another and for our family that one thing was sport. As a kid of eight in primary school, I already had dreams of going to the Olympics. I wanted to go and I wanted to win gold. I had set the bar pretty high even then but that’s what I focused on every time I got on the bike. It was pretty simple – Olympic Gold. I didn’t quite get there but, looking back now, that was what pushed me on – every kilometre, every day, every year.
I was the youngest of four boys and all of my older brothers raced as well. Dad did it really tough but he loved it. Not only did he coach us four boys, he also raced himself. After driving hundreds of kilometres to get to races all around the countryside, he would look after us, then race himself before the long drive home again. It was hard on him, but we boys couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was great to spend that time with him as my dad and my coach. We shared intimate bonding times and, at the end of the day, it was all about having fun and that is what I have taken throughout my career.
Dad coached me from when I was five until I was seventeen, but I was never pushed. I think that it is very important for coaches and parents not to push their kids into anything. As a young fella, it is easy to rebel and push back. My oldest brother is eight years older than me. When he turned seventeen, he said, “I’ve had enough” and quit cycling. It was a shame as he was quite talented and showed some promise. He is not bitter, but if he had his time again, he probably would have done things differently.
Jamie, the second eldest, competed at the World Championships in track and road cycling. He was very successful with many victories but injury got the better of him and he missed selection for the 1992 Olympic Games. It was devastating as it would have been excellent to have both of us there in Barcelona. Dean, closest to me in age, was a national medallist and a very good cyclist, but starting a family and new priorities slowed him down. Unlike me, who enjoyed the sprints, Dean was more of an endurance cyclist. Track cycling was summer and road was winter. You did both growing up in the country as a kid but there comes a time when you must pick one over the other and, for me, track was where it was at.
Mum and Dad taught us to have fun, be gracious in defeat and humble in victory.
My dad taught me everything that I knew about cycling up until that point – the skills and basic training principles that set up my cycling career. From a young age, I learnt how to be gracious in defeat and humble in victory. This has been an invaluable tool and is the key lesson I pass on to kids today.
Coach 2 – Charlie Walsh
My Dad coached me until I was seventeen. As a kid, I remember the excitement I felt when I received a phone call from Charlie Walsh, the national Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) coach based in Adelaide. He offered me a scholarship to the AIS. This meant moving to Adelaide full time but I didn’t hesitate. I took up the offer, moved to Adelaide and did not look back.
I had seen Charlie in the distance at national championship events, but the phone call was our first conversation, so when I met him, it was like meeting a childhood hero. I was a quiet kid from the bush and, to be honest, I was pretty nervous. One thing that Charlie has always said was the way my parents presented me to the national program deserved credit.
I found it a huge change working with Charlie compared to Dad.
As a child, I had devoured cycling magazines and videos of my Australian and international idols and dreamed of being one of them. Suddenly, I was amongst it – travelling overseas and racing in world championship events.
I trained with Charlie from the ages of 18 to 28. We did three Olympic campaigns, two Commonwealth campaigns and nine world championship events together. I think I was his longest serving athlete but I wouldn’t say we were ever friends. We worked well as coach and athlete, so that is where our relationship stayed.
Charlie was all about character building. He was out to build toughness and resilience by challenging you. One of the biggest tests was in the lead up to the 1992 Olympics. We were in Mexico. My training schedule had me doing 200 kilometres as a sprinter while the endurance guys were doing 250 kilometres. It was the biggest ride I had ever cycled and, as I watched the bike speedo click over to 200, I dropped back to the van – spent, with nothing in the tank. Charlie said, “Kel, I want you to ride back to the group and continue back to the hotel.” I was in tears, but thankfully I had glasses on so he couldn’t see. That was what I needed to do to make it to Barcelona. With the program then, you had to be tough and survive.
When my foot pulled from the pedal in Atlanta, Charlie said that it was just one of those freak things that happens. Some people expected me to smash things in the in-field, but to be honest, I was too shocked and couldn’t believe what had just happened – that, and the fact that my whole life, I had been taught how to be gracious in defeat.
The hardest thing was going to the stands where my Mum, Dad and family were. My Dad was quite teary but I remember saying to him, “If this is the worst thing that happens to me, then I’m not going to have a bad career”.
Even though we were all in shock, we had to move on, which was what we did. We immediately reset our goals and focused on the World Championships that were in five weeks’ time.
Five weeks later, I was in Manchester for the World Championships. I won the time trial and team sprint event with a world record. I could have easily retired after Atlanta but that wasn’t what I was about. I love to challenge myself and push the limits and competing at the World Championships was just another step towards the next Olympics in Sydney.
Coach 3 – Martin Barras
Sydney 2000 was my last competition with Charlie as coach. After Sydney, I had a year off with deep vein thrombosis before starting with the new AIS coach and National Team coach Martin Barras. Charlie and Martin were very different coaches. Charlie was all about the quantity approach – the old Eastern Bloc philosophy of doing huge volumes of training. As a sprint cyclist for a 1 km race, I was doing 30,000 kilometres a year. That would be like a sprinter training by doing marathons. Even with that, we were still successful.
Martin preferred the sprint, power, speed approach. We cut the distance by a third but spent more time in the gym and on the velodrome going fast. Martin was about the quality of training from day one. If your first attempt was a PB, then he would send you home. His approach was backed by sports science. If you put in 100% then he was happy. This meant that I had to reinvent myself, as I hadn’t been in the gym or done any specific speed training, but the gains I received were huge. I was a beginner again but it reignited my passion and love of the sport.
After the Commonwealth Games in 2006, I had some time off. My mind wasn’t there. I was physically and mentally exhausted but I still hadn’t won the gold that I had set as a goal when I was an eight year old.
In the lead up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, people thought that 36 was too old to be competing. My team mates were a lot younger but I was still doing PBs in the gym and on the track. I had had four attempts to win gold and thought number five would be it.
Then I was told I was too old.
That was all I needed to hear. That was the catalyst that spurred me on and I gave more effort to that Olympics than I had to the previous four. In the end, I only got two fourth places, but I don’t think I could have done more.
As a 36 year old, at the top of his game and still doing PBs, it was a tough decision to retire. Martin was happy that we had done everything we could and knew there was a chance I could continue, but when you are at the pointy end, you become very selfish. You want to win; you want to be the best so we both made the decision to move on. I had given my best and I decided it’s better to finish at the top rather than fading away.
Going to the Olympics is a very addictive thing to experience. When you are there, you are in the Olympics Club; if you medal, then you are in an even more elite group; and if you win gold, you are remembered forever. As a kid, I counted the years, worked out my age and I knew that 1992 was going to be my year. I was going to be there.
Competing at five Olympic Games was definitely not part of my plan, but coming so close on my first attempt, unknown, unseeded, a young fella from the country, I realised that I was capable of winning and I became addicted. It’s hard to describe just how special it is to wear the green and gold on the biggest sporting stage in the world. I would have gone on to six but good sense got the better of me.
A New Coach
Once I retired in 2008, I didn’t really know what to do next. I had competed and been with the national team for nearly 20 years. I left school and went straight into the sport, so I didn’t really know anything else. I loved cycling and working with kids, so coaching them appeared to be a perfect fit, but it wasn’t easy.
As an athlete, it becomes instinct to get on the bike and go. So, transitioning to a coach, I had to really think about that process. As a mentor, I started by working with the schools each summer with up to 200 kids competing in an event. Then I moved into more specific coaching programs. Now I am working more with the Victorian Institute of Sport elite cyclists and am currently head coach of the Scotch College Cycling Team in Melbourne.
There are definitely ideas, strategies and processes engrained in me from all of my coaches but it is all about communicating and working with what you have. You have to have fun but still be truthful to yourself. It is not easy. If you want to be the best, you have to commit and sacrifice. You have to be selfish and want it, but I also tell kids, “You’re not going to race forever, so have something else to work with down the track”.
From his silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games to multiple World Championships, Commonwealth Games gold, top world rankings and awards both in Australia and internationally, Shane has had an amazing career in competitive international cycling.
At the conclusion of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Shane Kelly finally announced his retirement from international competition. Now, raising twin daughters, Shane is facing his next challenge; that of being a coach. Awarded an OAM in 2004 for service to cycling as a competitor and through support for the development of junior riders
- 1996 Australian Cyclist of the Year
- 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 Australian Male Track Cyclist of the Year
- 1995 AIS Athlete of the Year
- 1995 Young Australian of the Year (Sport)
- 2000 Australian Sports Medal
- 1995, 1996, 1997 Governor’s Award
- Named in AIS 25 Best of Best.
- Awarded Paul Harris Fellow (Rotary)
- 2008 Olympic Games CHN
- 2008 Track World Championships GBR
- 2006 Track World Championships FRA
- 2006 Commonwealth Games AUS
- 2005 Track World Championships USA
- 2004 Olympic Games GRE
- 2004 Track World Championships AUS
- 2003 Track World Championships GER
- 2002 Track World Championships DEN
- 2001 Oceania Championships AUS
- 2000 Olympic Games AUS
- 1999 Track World Championships GER
- 1998 Track World Championships FRA
- 1998 Commonwealth Games MAS
- 1997 Track World Championships AUS
- 1996 Olympic Games USA
- 1996 Track World Championships UK
- 1995 Track World Championships COL
- 1994 Track World Championships ITA
- 1994 Commonwealth Games CAN
- 1993 Track World Championships NOR
- 1992 Olympic Games ESP
- 1991 Track World Championships GER
- 1990 Junior Track World Championships UK
Powerful Stories, Tips and Amazing Insight
Ready, Set, Go! Everything you need to know to start coaching from the legends in the field. As well as the Business and Life coaches, our launch edition features David Parkin (AFL), Lisa Alexander (Netball Australia), Adam Commens (Hockey Australia), Simon Cusack (Swimming Australia), Sean Douglas (FFA) and many more!