Sport

Keeping tradition rolling

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August 01, 2017

Shaun O’Brien with his son Kyle and Steve Fairless at the Victorian Christmas Track Carnival in Shepparton last year.

Shepparton Cycling Club members Brett Lancaster, John Thorsen, Shaun O'Brien and Steve Fairless.

Greater Shepparton Sports Hall of Fame inductee

Shaun O’Brien quickly fell in love with cycling in Shepparton.

‘‘Like most kids I played a bit of footy but was not much good ... I tried a few different things, even played hockey one season, but cycling was always my favourite sport,’’ O’Brien said.

Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, this third generation cyclist showed immediate promise and quickly worked his way up through the junior ranks.

‘‘I took it up at about eight years of age ... they didn’t have a lot of juniors at the time, there was only a couple of us,’’ O’Brien said.

‘‘I was a big kid at a young age and that helped me to be a little bit better.

‘‘But like every sport, it all evens out and they catch up to you and reality hits.’’

O’Brien really came to notice when he won the Victorian Schoolboys under-12 track cycling championship in 1981.

‘‘It was held down in Melbourne for any kid in school age ... you didn’t have to register, you just showed up,’’ he said.

‘‘People were trying to grow the junior side of things, I went down with Dad, had never ridden on a velodrome but went down there and won it.

‘‘Every time you won it you got a new bike and it was good for me because all my school bikes were stolen.’’

O’Brien was selected into the Victorian team for the national titles at a young age and this was where he got his first taste of team events.

‘‘I did road and the track ... (but) I began to enjoy the team aspect of racing,’’ O’Brien said.

In 1984 and 1985, O’Brien went on to win the under-16 Australian team pursuit championship, and in 1987 while still a junior he competed overseas for the first time.

‘‘I went to Italy for the world titles and it was an eye-opener,’’ he said.

‘‘I copped a fair bit of a flogging but rode well in a few road races in Holland, which stoked the fire again.’’

In 1998 O’Brien headed over to live and compete in Europe for 18 months with a friend.

‘‘I spent that time living in Belgium trying to improve ... I was told by the Australian coaches that I needed a bit more experience in Europe,’’ he said.

‘‘We were living off the smell of an oily rag ... I was pretty glad to get home after eight months.’’

O’Brien’s form led to him winning two major events during the 1988 road season in Europe, helping him to become a scholarship holder at the AIS track cycling unit in Adelaide upon his return to Australia.

‘‘I went straight to Adelaide ... spent four months there then headed back to Europe for the remaining seven months of the year,’’ O’Brien said.

‘‘I did that pretty much for the next four years of my life.’’

In 1990, O’Brien won selection in the Australian team for the Commonwealth Games and performed exceptionally well, taking out silver medals in the team pursuit and the 10km individual scratch race.

‘‘It was a bit controversial at the time ... I was beaten in a photo finish and the guy that won it was on a part of the track which he shouldn’t have been on,’’ he said.

‘‘The protest wasn’t upheld ... (but) to be honest I was more disappointed that I didn’t get to ride in the event I wanted to.

‘‘I didn’t get selected in the 50km points score which was what I was targeting ... even though I’d won four events in Australia that year alone.’’

A year later, O’Brien competed in the World Championships in the team pursuit in Stuttgart, Germany, and his team won a bronze medal.

‘‘We just got pipped, we were probably good enough to get silver but came up against Germany (the eventual gold medallists) in the semi-final,’’ he said.

The following year, O’Brien competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, becoming Shepparton’s third cycling Olympian when he won selection in the track cycling team.

‘‘I was 23 at the time ... it was a really good experience ... the opening ceremony was great, it was everything I thought it would be,’’ he said.

O’Brien, Stuart O’Grady, Brett Aitken and Stephen McGlede won the silver medal in the 4000m team pursuit.

‘‘Us and Germany were the two fastest teams and this time we were lucky enough to avoid each other until the final,’’ he said.

‘‘(Post the race) we hadn’t touched alcohol for 18 months so it was a pretty big party from memory ... but then we were back on a plane to get sorted for our next event.’’

O’Brien rode in Europe one more year following the Olympic Games before deciding he’d had enough, feeling he wasn’t good enough to make it big as a road rider in Europe.

‘‘Road riding was where the money was ... I got asked to go around again for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics but I had no chance of making a dollar,’’ he said.

At the age of 26, he retired and began his career working in healthcare before becoming a teacher on the Gold Coast, Queensland.

‘‘For the last five years I’ve been involved with my son who got into cycling ... before that I didn’t go near a bike for more than 10 years,’’ O’Brien said.

‘‘He’s a young junior and doesn’t take it too seriously at the moment, but in the next couple of years plans to give it a bit more of a shake.’’

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