EARLIER this week the Blue Lake City was lucky enough to welcome an Australian cycling great to its schools through the Limestone Coast Regional Sporting Academy and South Australian Sports Institute cycling program.
Sydney 2000 Olympic Games gold medallist Brett Aitken mentored students from Grant High School, St Martins Lutheran College and Mount Gambier High School, who pushed their bodies to the limit in sessions across Monday and Tuesday.
After a successful 18-year career, Aitken is now the SASI’s head cycling coach and used the program to unearth future stars in the sport from the region.
The 49-year-old said he feels a tremendous amount of satisfaction sharing his expertise with aspiring youngsters.
“There is nothing better than being able to hand over my knowledge to young kids and help develop someone to come through to hopefully see them achieve their ultimate dream,” Aitken said.
The two-day program is not the first time Aitken has been actively involved in the area.
Last year he looked over a similar test at Mount Gambier High School and also attended an athletics carnival.
However, these recent visits are not the only connection Aitken has with the Limestone Coast.
“My first experience on a real velodrome was in a Madison event here at Mount Gambier in the late 1980’s,” he said.
From that event at the Blue Lake Sports Park velodrome, Aitken went on to win Gold in the same event at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
The Adelaide-based rider also won Silver and Bronze Olympic medals at Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 96 respectively and played a pivotal role in Australia’s first team pursuit world title at the 93 World Championships.
Aitken said he is proud of all of his achievements, but nothing compares to realising his dream on home soil.
“I have had so many good memories along the way,” he said.
“In the first time I won a World Championship, we smashed the world record, which was pretty amazing.
“I have been to two Commonwealth Games and won a couple of gold medals there, but nothing will ever top the Olympic Gold in Sydney.
“I thought it was never going to get better than this – winning it in my home country and in front of my family.
“Everything was just awesome.”
Since his retirement from professional cycling in 2009, Aitken has continued to be part of the sport he loves.
Cycling has “never gone away” from his life and he has performed a number of different roles from a bike shop owner to a private coach.
Aitken has been the head SASI cycling coach for six years and already has promising Mount Gambier riders Tess and Luke Wight under his wing.
He holds high hopes for the pair and believes Tess could reach the same level as himself.
“My role will find the best cyclists in the state and I directly deal with Luke and Tess in my own program,” Aitken said.
“I have had a few riders who have gone on to represent the national team and Tess is already a national champion.
“She is a really good success story from the academy and I hope she can get to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.”
The level of talent shown by cyclists such as the Wights’ has inspired Aitken to search for more pedal-pushing gold in the Limestone Coast.
Mount Gambier is the only area in the state outside of Adelaide where SASI is testing to find future riders.
Aitken said he has been impressed by the city at every visit and believes Mount Gambier can become a future cycling stronghold.
“I think Mount Gambier has all of the ingredients of what makes a potentially strong cycling community,” he said
“To me there is talent everywhere you go, so it is just a matter of finding it and from what I have seen there are plenty in Mount Gambier.”