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How a switch to the ‘dark side’ has taken Kristina Clonan to the edge of an Olympics debut

Picture: Charlie Forgham-Bailey/

The 2024 international track cycling season gets underway next Friday, when the opening round of the Tissot UCI Track Nations Cup hits the Adelaide Super-Drome.

However, for the track stars of the ARA Australian Cycling Team, this year’s Track Nations Cup will have a little more spice than normal.

The event marks the beginning of a heavily weighted start to the year, with every lap of the track now aimed at achieving gold at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Less than a fortnight out from the event, AusCycling spoke to Australia’s leading women’s sprinter Kristina Clonan to get a better understanding of the significance of the Track Nations Cup in the context of an Olympic year.

“It will be very competitive,” Clonan said.

“We've got quite a lot of nations coming to Australia who will also be at the Olympic Games, and in an Olympic year the pressure is on, but it's also a heightened excitement that we have this opportunity.

Picture: Will Palmer/

“From here, we'll head over to New Zealand where we have the Oceania Track Championships. We then come back for Track Nationals ... and then we head off to Hong Kong, which is the second Nations Cup.”

Among three key lead-in events to Paris, Clonan said any remaining training time will be spent in Adelaide in preparation for the Olympics.

However, hopes will be high the team can start the year off on the front foot at the Track Nations Cup, on their home boards and buoyed by the support of family and friends.

“It's exciting that we don't need to travel, because being down in Australia, we always have quite a long commute to the countries that we go to,” Clonan said.

“So, it's incredible that we can stay in the time zone, where we just kind of continue with our routine, and then one day we're just having to show up and it'll be a Nations Cup!”

Despite her status as a strong contender to make her Olympic debut in Paris, the journey to being an Olympic hopeful has had its share of twists and turns for the Queenslander.

Growing up on the Sunshine Coast, Clonan’s first exposure to cycling came through cross-training while competing at a national level in athletics as a junior.

Under the guidance of the late Merv McDonald, Clonan’s interest in cycling took off, with the 25-year-old revealing McDonald “really instigated the belief that I could do cycling and I could do it quite well”.

Picture: UCI

A promising endurance career followed, highlighted by a 2015 Junior Oceania Road Race Championship and an elite Madison national title with Macey Stewart in 2018.

However, after missing selection for the Tokyo Olympic Games, Clonan reached a crossroads.

“I essentially had two options: I could either go road or try my luck in track sprint. I’d always had quite good acceleration, and the sprint coach at the time, Nick Flyger, had always joked that I can always come to the dark side,” she said laughingly.

“He obviously saw something in me, and that's where it took off from there.”

Success followed almost immediately on the national scene, with Clonan amassing 12 national championships across sprint, keirin, 500m time trial and team sprint since 2020.

Her first international breakthrough came at the 2022 Tissot UCI Track Nations Cup round in Milton, Canada, where a sub-33 second 500m time trial winning performance delivered Clonan her first individual Track Nations Cup medal.

Three months later, Clonan upped the ante at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, winning gold in the 500m time trial and breaking Anna Meares’ championship record in the process.

At the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow, a first-ever world championship medal was added to the growing trophy cabinet, with another sub-33 second 500m time trial performance earning the Queenslander a silver medal.

Clonan said her success in recent years in the 500m time trial stemmed from one race that cemented in her mind that she could excel in the discipline.

“For me, the number one result was at nationals when I did the 500 and rode 32.985. That was the point that it's like, ‘ok, well this is at a world standard’.

Picture: Guy Swarbrick

“That was the moment that I was like, ‘alright, what I'm doing is the right thing. The training and the communication that I'm having with my coaches is working’.”

Clonan now revels being around the elite performance environment where she often trains with the men’s sprint squad under coach Matt Crampton, adding that there are no secrets to her success.

“It's just hard work. It's consistent training, day in, day out, getting enough sleep, doing your warm ups, doing your cool downs, communicating with your coach on an effective level, having good team culture. All of these things come together to form a good performance,” she said.

“When I'm surrounded by a group of people who are also incredibly motivated, when they're incredibly intent on their purpose and on their career and on taking the reins, it makes it a lot easier to show up day in, day out, because the standard is created.

“The men's team sprint are in fantastic form, and I'm really excited to watch how they do at the Games. It's kind of them and the Dutch tossing it up at the moment in the team sprint.”

Clonan now reflects on the disappointment of Tokyo non-selection with a degree of positivity, drawing from it to better herself as an athlete and person.

“The Tokyo Olympic Games prep and the three years prior was a huge growth point for me. It was disappointing not making the games, but I learned so much from the group of girls that I was with, and I developed so much as a bike rider, as a person, and as a person that is competing at a high level, intense sport," she said.

Picture: Alex Whitehead/

“I think a part of me has been thinking about [the Olympics] since I was nine years old, doing athletics. I guess it's always been this pipe dream to be able to compete for Australia and show Australia what we can do on the world stage.

“I guess the nitty gritty of it is we've still got a few goals to tick off before the Olympic Games, and even before Olympic selection. So, at the moment, it's kind of one foot in front of the other, but yeah, the dream is still well and truly alive.”


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