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Interview: World Champion John Paul

Interview: World Champion John Paul

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Olympic Development Programme rider John Paul was back in Manchester last week for the Junior Sprint and Keirin competitions after a hectic fortnight of international competition that saw him pick up the European Sprint and Keirin titles and then secure his first rainbow jersey - winning the World Junior Sprint title in Moscow. We caught up to him at the end of the Youth and Junior Nationals.

It's been a fantastic couple of weeks. How do you prepare for three major competitions in three weeks?

Because the Europeans was the first major competition, that was freshest in your mind - in the winter you've got the Euros, the Worlds and then the Nationals. The build-up starts four or five weeks out - you start taking the volume out of your training, come out of the gym and we had a regular camp at Manchester and then a pre-Euros camp. Because there was a big squad going out it felt as though there was more focus on it, it felt like a really huge event.

After the Euros you've got the bigger event but without the big squad and all the support - there were three of us in Moscow - it didn't feel as big an event in some ways. But in the run up to the Euros we'd had some great camps that helped us get into top form for that and we carried that through to the Worlds.

How did the Europeans compare with the other major events you've done? The Commonwealth Games, for instance?

Obviously with Delhi there were all the other sports so overall it was nothing in comparison but in terms of cycling there was a lot of Juniors and Under 23s - both endurance and sprint - so it was a huge squad that went out and it was good because you've got all your friends there and the Under 23s and the endurance riders - there's a lot of people there and you get a lot of advice, so it was really helpful.

And did the Europeans go to plan? You came back with two jerseys in the Sprint and the Keirin - as that what you were expecting?

I went out there hoping for - maybe - a podium. I would have been really happy with that - that was my goal for the year. So to go out there and win two events, you know - it was my dream come true. Last year I didn't go to the Europeans but I went to the Worlds and got knocked out in the first round of the Sprint, so ever since then I've just been dreaming of winning it .

And then the Worlds was another step up again...

Exactly. It was an emotional rollercoaster when we were out there. There was some really tough competition and close racing over the two days and it was definitely the hardest sprint competition I've ever ridden in. It was so close and it came down to tactics because we were all capable of riding at the same speed. But on the day, as I got through the rounds, I just seemed to get stronger and stronger and got through to the final against Julien Palma who knocked me out in the first round last year - and that was the only time I've raced him since. It was a great experience.

Gold in the Sprint - and a new British record for 200m... Any tinge of disappointment that you didn't get under 10 seconds?

Yeah, I think so... in the training days before I was doing some really quick times over 100m and it looked like I was going to go under the 10, so a bit disappointed with the 10.17 but it was the same in the Euros - I hit a really good flying 100 and then just died a bit... I knew in the back of my mind that I could hit the same top speed as the other guys but I was just dying off a bit more. So in the racing I played more to my strengths, using my acceleration and leaving it a bit later...

It's nice to hit the numbers, but Moscow's a bit unreal, isn't it?

Yeah it is. It's totally different to a normal track - coming back here and racing it feels like I'm riding round the car park it's just so, so different.

And how's it been this week - coming back ‘down' to ‘only' winning the Nationals?

It's been really nice. With the [World Champion] skinsuit on - it's just such a privilege to wear it. It's been really enjoyable - and a good Sprint final against Matt [Rotherham]. A little bit tired from the travel, but I've really enjoyed it. It's been a good week.

The keirin didn't quite go to plan. The tactics in the heat seem to work OK - holding off at the back of the line and then attacking from a long way out - but not so much in the Final...

The final was quite a tough ride and I just left myself too much work to do. By the time I'd got to the front of the race I'd done about 50m more than anyone else from coming over the top, so I just tied up a bit in the last straight - but that's racing. Still it's been a dream come true this season and I'm looking forward to some time off and then getting back to training.

It doesn't seem that long ago since you turned up at Palmer Park in Reading and started racing there. When did you start to realise you were going to be as good as you are?

Probably when I first got on the Talent Team and got a coach and started to understand everything and how it worked in the programme and in sprinting. And when I first went to the DHL Sprint Schools and talked to Craig Maclean and Chris Hoy and Ross Edgar inspired me and set my mind on what I wanted to do - and then ever since then I've just set little goals and kept going and kept going - from the Talent Team to the ODP - the British Cycling programme's been absolutely fantastic with the opportunities you get - the chance to race internationally at the Commonwealth Games. And from here it's just about seeing how far it goes.

You were asked to do present medals and jerseys at the Nationals? How did that feel?

I felt really honoured when they asked me to present the medals and jersey. It's only a year ago that I first won the Junior Sprint and remember feeling really pleased, and a year on I'm the one giving the awards out!

Have you become a celebrity in other areas? Any interest from the local press in Oxfordshire or back in Scotland?

Back home in my small village where I used to live I guess I've become a celebrity - I don't think anyone has ever become a World Champion from up there! So it's really nice that the people still support me and have an interest in what I do.

We've seen some good racing this week across the age groups - from the Under 12s and Under 14s right through to the Under 16 sprint competition today. What advice would you give to anybody else who'd like to follow in your footsteps?

Anyone who wants to do it - you've just got to love riding your bike. If you're doing it and there's a point where you think you can't be bothered, it's not worth pursuing because if really if you want to make it to the top you've got to love doing it. You've got to want to get up in the mornings; you've got to want to go to the gym. You've got to want to do everything possible to improve.

I remember sitting in a Talent Team room and there were 20 or 25 of us there and the coaches said ‘Not all of you are going to make it' and I thought to myself, if not all of us are going to make it then I need to do more than the other people and do extra for me to make it.

It's just about wanting to do everything you can. Going home and looking at the tactics, going to bed early every night, diet, training...giving everything. You've got to devote your life to it.

What are your plans for the rest of the season?

I'm doing the Team Sprint at the Senior Nationals with Callum Skinner and Bruce Croall and that's about it, really.

And medium to long term? Obviously all the public focus is on 2012 but are the Paul family planning a beach holiday in Rio in 2016?

I'm just going to apply for the Academy Sprint programme and if I get selected then I'll focus on that and I'll go up there, starting at the bottom and just try and work my way up.


John Paul will be in action at the 2011 National Track Championships, which takes place from the 28 Sept - 2 Oct at Manchester Velodrome.

British National Track Championships

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