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UPCOMING OLYMPIC GAMES

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Na­tion­al cy­clists Nicholas Paul, Njisane Phillip and Keron Bram­ble, work­ing back from that or­der, had all at the Velo­drome in Li­ma, Pe­ru hold­ing their breaths for 43.972 sec­onds on Thurs­day night.

It took that length of time for the lo­cal cy­clists to race across the line to win T&T's first gold medal at the Pan Amer­i­can Games in the Men's Team Sprint event.

"It's a plea­sure for the team and the coun­try. We train every day, day-in day-out to just rep the red, white and black so we're just hap­py to come out with the vic­to­ry and to raise the flag high," said Paul af­ter he and his team­mates col­lect­ed their gold medals then sang the na­tion­al an­them as the na­tion­al flag was hoist­ed above the flags of sil­ver medal­list Co­lum­bia and Brazil, who bagged bronze.

"It's feel­ing good. We set this goal from since last year," said Phillip, who like his fel­low rid­ers were all smiles. "Just be­ing able to come out and ex­e­cute to­day (Thurs­day) was great. Be­ing able to hit 43 is a big ac­com­plish­ment for us as a team and sure­ly build from here.

"We have Pan Amer­i­can Cham­pi­onships in the next three weeks which is an Olympic qual­i­fi­er, we get points in that el­e­ment and we're try­ing to go out and win again.

"Right now we are ranked 11th in the world in Olympic qual­i­fy­ing so this year, we have to step up our game and be able to pro­duce some times just to make sure we qual­i­fy for Tokyo 2020 in the team sprint."

Bram­ble was the qui­etest of the bunch but his per­for­mance, rac­ing in lap one, spoke loud­ly for him as he got off T&T well in the fi­nale clock­ing 17.938 in the first 250 me­tres. Phillip com­plet­ed the sec­ond lap with a 12.655-clock­ing and it was Paul bring­ing home the win with a 13.379-tim­ing in lap three.

"Our per­for­mance has been go­ing up­hill since Mr Erin Hartwell came and bring the team to­geth­er so it's been a work in progress and we are just hap­py to see our progress and hard work is pay­ing off. We are just hap­py and just go­ing for­ward from here on," said Paul, recog­nis­ing the con­tri­bu­tion of na­tion­al cy­cling tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Hartwell, the ef­fort he has put in, to see the lo­cal team win T&T's 12th gold medal at the Pan Amer­i­can Games.

Hartwell gushed about his rid­ers af­ter their suc­cess, shar­ing that they are go­ing to cel­e­brate the win but knows that there is much to be done to get suc­cess at the next lev­el.

He said, "That's a phe­nom­e­nal re­sult for us, that's a na­tion­al sea-lev­el record that's a track record here. We have been tar­get­ing the 43s for the past year. We, at sea lev­el con­di­tions, were slow, air den­si­ty was high with the un­der rel­a­tive­ly cold and so we had high ex­pec­ta­tions com­ing in hon­est­ly as Pan Amer­i­can cham­pi­ons any­thing less than gold would be con­sid­ered a loss.

"So every­one knew the pres­sure they were un­der but we still have to step up and re­al­i­ty is com­ing home with less than gold just isn't ac­cept­able so if it's one thing we do is come through, know­ing the pres­sure and I'm su­per proud of the guys and what they were able to ac­com­plish.

"We did have to reshuf­fle the line up from what we ran at the World Cham­pi­onships and the World Cups and there is al­ways some risk with that I put Keron Bram­ble un­der some pres­sure in that P1 spot, which is a pres­sure per­haps, to say the least. The guy came through with fly­ing colours. I could not be more proud.

"Njisane Phillip did a 12.6 ride, that would have been third fastest at the World Cham­pi­onships so he is show­ing that he can move be­tween po­si­tions and then Nicholas Paul slot­ting back to P3 with 13.3, I mean that was just a huge re­sult from him. And again cul­mi­nat­ing a great time and a great re­sult of Pan Am gold, I'm hap­py with that."

T&T set the tone ear­li­er in the first ses­sion, steal­ing the spot­light by qual­i­fy­ing for the gold medal race with the fastest time, 44.260, of the six teams that en­tered the com­pe­ti­tion. Pe­ru was elim­i­nat­ed in the first round and Venezuela did not start.

The Colom­bians, how­ev­er, were sec­ond-best team ad­vanc­ing with a time of 45.046 to set up a ride off with the T&T men for the top spot on the podi­um.

"This morn­ing (Thurs­day) just be­ing able to qual­i­fy and see­ing that we qual­i­fied with 44 while the oth­er guys did 45, we were def­i­nite­ly on tar­get," said Phillip.

In the fi­nal, de­spite hav­ing to wait to take the track as the bronze medal race be­tween Brazil and Mex­i­co had to be restart­ed three times. In the end, though, it was the Brazil­ians tak­ing the bronze af­ter the Mex­i­cans were dis­qual­i­fied af­ter false-start­ing twice.

The de­lay though didn't phase the T&T cy­clists as they set aside their warm­ing blan­kets, mount­ed their bikes and sped off to glo­ry.

"Com­ing in­to the fi­nal, we were con­fi­dent that we were go­ing to put up a good time and we were try­ing to go 43 rather than just go for the gold. We were try­ing to go 43 and we made it."

Hartwell con­firmed that these young men have the right at­ti­tude and fan­tas­tic work eth­ic say­ing: "We run a very tight ship. This is an ul­tra-pro­fes­sion­al en­vi­ron­ment and every­body un­der­stands that this is busi­ness. We have jobs to do. Every­one shows up each day on time, gets the work done.

"We plan well in ad­vance to cov­er all con­tin­gen­cies or as many as we can, some­thing can al­ways pop up ob­vi­ous­ly but it been a strong two years and last year every­one was un­der pres­sure just from hav­ing to grind, grind, grind and qual­i­fy for Worlds, World Cups, all that.

"I was ques­tion­ing how much of a toll it took on every­one and could we get that back. For­tu­nate­ly, we had some time off af­ter Worlds last year. Just got in­to a good train­ing block, a good 12-plus weeks, went to the US, we weren't un­der as much pres­sure as we were last year to score UCI (In­ter­na­tion­al Cy­cling Union) points. We still were able to grab some points, we trained through it which al­lowed us to bet­ter pre­pare for this com­pe­ti­tion be­cause this 2020 sea­son starts now so Pan Am Games was a big tar­get for us. We got a bit more work to do and al­so fo­cus on that now the Pan Am Champs.

"We got 43.9, that's the time we need to be meta com­pet­i­tive at World Cups and start chip­ping away at those fi­nal spots for Olympic qual­i­fi­ca­tions so I'm quite en­cour­aged, there's a lot of work to be done but we will take the win tonight (Thurs­day) but to­mor­row (Fri­day), we get up and do it again.

"It was a long sea­son which took its toll, again we reshuf­fled a cou­ple of the things. Kwe­si Browne, we saved his legs for the Keirin com­ing up but he is our fourth guy right now. He is in that mix too. I did con­sid­er him for this evening but I thought let's just keep the squad from the qual­i­fiers in­to the evening, keep it nice and tight and see what hap­pens.

"I'm en­cour­aged," said Hartwell.

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