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An interview with Heiko Salzwedel
British Cycling's new track coach
By Phil Ingham, British Cycling Federation
The success of the GB Track team at the Sydney Olympics marked Britain's arrival in Track cycling's elite and was the first step towards the goal of becoming the world's leading Track nation by 2012. The man charged with managing the team towards this lofty goal is Heiko Salzwedel, who was appointed National Track Manager last Autumn.
German by birth, Heiko is perhaps best known as man behind the Australian Institute of Sport's successful Men's and Women's Road and Mountain Bike programmes during the nineties, which effectively put Australia on the cycling map, with athletes like Robbie McEwen, Kathy Watt, Patrick Jonker, Anna Wilson and Cadel Evans. Dominant Australian cycling performances at the 1994 and 1998 Commonwealth Games are still fresh in many British memories.
In 1999, following a move back to Germany, he managed the national cycling team which won four golds at the Track and Road World Championships, including Jan Ullrich's memorable win in the Men's Time Trial.
I caught up with Heiko last week and began by asking him what had attracted him to the job?
"It's pretty simple: I saw it as a challenge where I would be able to change things and make things happen. The team - both staff and riders - is young and enthusiastic and nothing is set in stone. I saw a great potential for success. I also admired what Peter Keen had been doing with the programme. I have had a good relationship with Peter over the years and he and Programme Director Dave Brailsford persuaded me to come on board."
"I was also really excited about working with the present team of riders. I have known some of them for many years and it's good to work with them now that they have a chance to do a real job, a professional job, properly funded. Having also worked for Sport England monitoring various World Class Programmes, I was quite aware that there was solid funding backing the programme. It was not a Mickey Mouse set-up. We would be able to set up proper long-term plans."
With a team of thirty riders, four coaches and assorted support staff, you will have your hands full. How do you see your role?
"I'm a co-ordinator mainly. I'm now the man in the background pulling the strings. My job satisfaction comes from a combination of a smooth running operation and good results."
"As the manager, another challenge for me is thinking about long-term goals. Coaches think one year or perhaps four years ahead. My planning and thoughts go much further: at least as far ahead as the 2008 Olympics, with 2012 at the back of my mind. Even within the short term, coaches are thinking about the 2002 World Championships, whilst I'm already thinking about the 2003 championships."
"I can also contribute to the development of the other staff. I'm fortunate to work with young enthusiastic coaches like Simon Jones (Track Endurance), Iain Dyer (Sprint) and assistant coaches Marshall Thomas and Neil Walker. Through my experience as a coach, I can help them: in a way I coach the coaches. For a coach the result is everything. I allow them to focus so that they don't have to worry about when the riders' clothing will be ready, or any other detail. That's my concern. However, I do miss the day-to-day contact with riders. Working with world-class athletes is a privilege."
"The experience of Assistant Track Manager Doug Dailey is also invaluable to the team and myself, as is the knowledge of specialists like Bill Huck, who helps with the technical side of sprinting and Dave Clark who works on strength conditioning."
What are the qualities you like about your coaches?
"They're all critical, analytical people. They are people who like to ask questions. I don't like it when people have pre-conceived ideas without any foundation. It helps that they are all young. Coaches can burn-out. I was very intense as a coach. I gave a hundred percent and you can only do that for so long.
Apart from Heiko's arrival, there have been several other new appointments amongst the team's support staff. Heiko was keen to point out the effect these changes were having on how the team operates.
"Last year when I came on board, in a caretaker capacity before the World Track Championships, I was fire-fighting. There were an amazing number of incidents and problems accidents and crashes in the run up to the event."
"This year we have a much more stable, planned approach to the Championships. Both the Sprint and Endurance groups have very detailed plans. The plans are so detailed that everyone knows what they are doing virtually every day of the year. It makes the whole thing much more manageable. Of course, the plan is not set in concrete. In fact, this year's plan has been modified eighteen times so far. That's good!"
"Apart from the plan, the most important difference to last year is that we now have a real team ethos. Everyone is working together. We have no insular coaches, doing their own thing, but rather a group of experts working towards a set goal. When the Sprint Coach position was advertised last year, we had interest from all over the world, but we chose to take on a young coach, Iain Dyer, who was not pre-occupied with any prior opinions, but who was willing to learn from experts. This philosophy of developing staff in-house and nurturing teamwork is something that Peter Keen has championed. Now this GB model is, in my opinion, unique. In the past we had a coach-dominated culture in cycling, but we're having success with a team-led approach. That's unusual and I think it will pay off."
"There is also a similar philosophy extending to the riders. In the past we had separate World Class and Potential programmes. Now the riders are all part of the same team, with only their performance levels and their funding, which is linked to performance, to separate them. They have the same training, the same equipment, the same bikes and the same coaches."
2002 sees a major global championship - the Commonwealth Games - visiting the UK. What were this year's targets for the team?
"Obviously it's a difficult year with Commonwealth's and the World's. The Commonwealth's are the number one priority, though we'll be trying to peak for the World's as well. The two month gap between the two events is too short for a wind down followed by a fresh build-up, but too long to hold form over, so it will be a challenge. I'm confident, though, that we have the experience to handle it."
We then turned to the subject of the team's relatively poor record in Track endurance events other than the Pursuit and Team Pursuit. What were the team's plans for events like the Madison, Points Race and Scratch Race, the latter an event new to the world championships in the next couple of years?
"We can't ignore medal opportunities in these areas. One of this year's big changes in the team is the establishment of a third group of endurance riders in addition to our sprinters and pursuit specialists. The new group is made up of riders with special talent in Points, Madison and Scratch races, like Tony Gibb and Keiran Page. In addition, some of the country's leading road riders, currently with pro teams, have also expressed an interest in targeting these events at the next Olympics. That's an exciting development."
"We now have a three-year plan to get up to speed in these events. This year the aim is to participate, which we haven't always done in the past. Next year we will be looking for top six places at world level and by 2004 we'll be looking for medals. Of course it's easier to say than do, but you need goals. We have the riders to do it, but success will take time and we currently need more experience. We've recently had a team at the 6 days of Moscow. It's not just the riders but also the coaching staff who need to gain experience. It's a new area for them and they need to develop and research a training methodology. Peter Keen will be heavily involved in this, especially the physical conditioning side. Others, including the WCU's Shane Sutton, are looking at the tactical approach to these disciplines."
Finally, would you feel any divided loyalties if the GB Team came up against the German team in the final of the Team Pursuit in this year's World Championships?
"The team has my total commitment. It's a matter of professional pride to me that I'm putting all my energy, emotion and effort into the team. Naturally I have friends in both the Australian and German teams, but when the GB team meets them in competition, I want to win absolutely one hundred percent. Your heart is where you work and my heart is with British Cycling."