It’s not all about the bike

New Zealand’s Cailen Calkin is beyond exhausted. Normally a BMX racer, his body is designed for short, anaerobic bursts of speed. He has, he admits, “no endurance powers at all”. But on Saturday he did a cycling time trial, and on Sunday he competed in the road race - notoriously one of the most demanding feats in sport.

Picture by IOC/OIS

He is still hanging on in the five-day cycling event, which ends on Wednesday. So why is he involved? Because the combined team event requires two riders in order to compete - and shortly before the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, the original partner of rider Max Taylor (NZL) dropped out with an injury.

“It meant that I wouldn’t be able to come here to Argentina, unless someone else filled in at short notice,” said Taylor, 17. “I was gutted, but then someone decided to ask Cailen. “He was doing the BMX earlier in the week. That’s his specialism, what he’s really good at. But he decided he’d give this a go as well, so I could compete. He’s an absolute legend for doing this for me. I’ll never forget it. We’d not met before, but we’ve become fantastic mates.” 

Sixteen-year-old Calkin is certainly feeling his good deed in his legs. “Oh man, I was so sore, suffering out there,” he said after Monday’s cross-country eliminator. “I’m not physically built for this kind of bike riding. In the road race, I just couldn’t cling on to the peloton. 

“And in the short time trial, I felt good at the start, but my legs started to burn down the final straight. It was horrendous. I was the worst prepared athlete there, because my coach won’t even allow me to do endurance work. It contradicts what I need for BMX. It was cool being in the peloton for a little while, though. I won the first 50 metres.”

Max Taylor (IOC/OIS)

Joking aside, Calkin does not regret his decision. “I had to do this,” he said. “We couldn’t throw Max under the bus. I’m so glad I helped him get here, because he’s an awesome guy. But I thought I’d do the BMX in week one, then have a relaxing time in Buenos Aires during week two. It’s more likely that I’m going to be the most tired person in the world. I don’t usually sleep on planes, but I think I’lll sleep all the way back to New Zealand this time.” 

This spirit of friendship has been evident across the YOG’s small peloton. When it was revealed that Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt had arrived without mountain bikes, the other teams clubbed together to make sure they had a ride. 

“The Argentina team found me a mountain bike, because I don’t have one,” Zayid Hailu (ETH) said. “I’m very happy and grateful to them. Everyone is so nice and helpful here. They want to win, but off the bike it is a family.” 


Biniam Hailu (ERI) said with a rueful smile: “The bike isn’t right for me at all. We are not used to them, they’re not ours, not set up right. But at least we got to ride. The assistance we have been given is much appreciated. These people from all over the world are friends.” 

It is a feeling shared across the field. “Cycling is definitely friendly,” Harriet Harnden (GBR) said. “You get to know each other and it’s really cool, because biking unites you. I’ve never felt at a race that everyone is very individual, or out for themselves.”

Phoebe Young (NZL) said: “It’s not about the medals. It’s about enjoying the ride, loving being on your bike.”

So what next for BMXer-turned-endurance-man Calkin? “I might give tennis a go,” he said.