Cycling stunner: Australian champ set to race for Russia

Shane Perkins is switching allegiances. Photo: John Veage 07.02.16-Adelaide-Shane Perkins wins the Australian Keirin title.Picture John Veagemkeirin11.jpg Photo: John Veage
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Gutted by being left out of Australia’s track cycling team for the Rio Olympics, Shane Perkins has moved to switch sporting nations and compete for Russia at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The 30-year-old, who won a world title for Australia five years ago and gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, has already been photographed in the Russian team kit.

Cycling’s international governing body will have ultimate approval power over Perkins’ switch for competition, but it’s understood Russia’s cycling federation is assisting the application that would effectively grant the Victorian dual citizenship.

The development came as news to Perkins’ one-time manager, Bade Stapleton, when Fairfax Media sought explanation on Wednesday, but was later confirmed by former Australian cyclist and Commonwealth Games medallist Emily Rosemond, who said she has been assisting Perkins with his Olympic pursuits since late last year. Stapleton said he has been less involved with Perkins, a bronze medallist at the 2012 London Games, since Perkins missed the cut for Rio.

Australia’s reigning national keirin champion, Perkins spoke to Fairfax Media last year about his great disappointment at being excluded from an invite-only Olympics training camp. He was effectively cut from the national elite track cycling program after losing his Australian Institute of Sport scholarship in 2015.

Though unable to conceal his surprise initially, Stapleton said Perkins’ move to chase a Tokyo Olympic berth made sense strategically given his experience, and ongoing opportunities, in Japan’s multi-million dollar keirin circuit where cyclists compete into their forties and earn huge sums.

Less obvious, prima facie, is the motive behind Perkins’ move to race for Russia, a nation with its sporting reputation in turmoil and one that was banned from entering track and field competition in Brazil last year due to endemic doping. Perkins’ connection, however, has apparently come through friend and training partner Denis Dmitriev who won the bronze medal in the individual sprint on the track at the Rio Games.

“Shane considers everything very carefully,” Rosemond said when asked about any misgivings Perkins might have about aligning himself with Russia in the current sporting climate.

“He definitely would have considered, obviously, the reputation of Russia. But he’s of the opinion that he’s going into a clean environment, he’s a very conscientious athlete and will remain a conscientious and clean athlete and he would expect the same from his new teammates.”

Fairfax Media has been told Perkins, who moved from Adelaide to Brisbane with his wife and their two children late last year, cannot represent Russia in this year’s track world championships, in April.

He has been training in Queensland’s new velodrome, built for the 2018 Commonwealth Games – held on the Gold Coast – but it’s understood he would not anticipate representing Australia at that major event in light of his decision to compete for Russia.

“I think the colours you wear don’t always define you as an athlete,” Rosemond said.

“Shane has been fully supported by Cycling Australia for a number of years but unfortunately the circumstances at the moment have meant that he’s had to seek some support elsewhere ??? if that’s with the Russian cycling team, well, so be it.

“Shane is a real fighter, he’s a real athlete, and he’s doing whatever it’s going to take for him to make it to the Olympics [again] and unfortunately there’s not an opportunity there within the Australian cycling program, so he has had no other option except to pursue other opportunities … we’re working with the cards that we have on the table.”

A two-time world champion on the track – in the keirin (2011) and team sprint (2012) – Perkins has been riding on Japan’s lucrative keirin scene for the last seven years including, for a period, with Dmitriev.

Riding later this week for a Japanese professional trade team at a world cup meet in Columbia, Perkins had hoped to be picked in the last Australian Olympic track team up until it departed. The Cyclones were plagued by bad luck in Rio and missed their medal target by more than half.

Perkins, who coaches juniors in cycling in Queensland, did not appeal his non-selection.

If Perkins continues riding keirin events successfully in Japan in the countdown to the Tokyo Olympics his profile in that country will strengthen.

He would of course have to be selected in Russia’s Olympic cycling team in three years time, but if he is – and if he then happened to perform well at the 2020 Games – it could prove a further launch pad.