What makes an athlete?

What makes an athlete?

For a while now, cycling has seen multi discipline talents, with riders like Pauline Ferrand – Prevot, Marianne Vos and Elia Viviani competing across different disciplines, often switching multiple times a season, and with large amounts of success. Ferrand – Prevot and Vos have both been world champion on the road and cyclocross, with the former once holding the road, cyclocross and mountain bike world titles at the same time. Viviani meanwhile came from the track, winning many European and National titles, and now balances this with road racing. It is only in the last few years however that cycling has seen atheltes with backgrounds in other sports becoming successful in its professional ranks. In this article, I’ll be detailing examples of these sport switches, and delving into what made these athletes successful in the first place.

A name that immediately springs to mind for most people when sport switches are mentioned is Primoz Roglic. Roglic started off as a ski jumper, a hugely popular sport in Slovenia. He enjoyed success early on in his career, becoming junior world champion at age 17 in 2007, and regularly competed on the world cup circuit in the senior ranks, until a horrific crash in which he landed side first into the hill.

His first serious sporting endeavours also included Ice Hockey alongside his favoured Ski Jumping

Thankfully, he wasn’t injured, but it put him off ski jumping for good, and he took up cycling aged 21. Roglic’s case is rare; ski jumping is about explosivity, and timing, perhaps more akin to the big burst of power seen in a match sprint, rather than a monument or 3 week tour. But, clearly a natural athlete, endurance never troubled him, and it is now his explosivity that has garnered him many victories on the road. In an interview with Velonews.com, Roglic states that while the two sports are different, the discipline required to carry out “a lot of stretching, yoga, speed work and core training” has put him in good stead, adding that “those skills helped me as a cyclist”. Also, he often cites his mental capacity to focus and be able to take risks, saying “I didn’t fear Ski Jumping enough, so i crashed big”.

Another hugely talented athlete is Remco Evenepoel, skyrocketing to fame at the Innsbruck world junior championships in 2018, soloing off the front after having to gain three minutes on the bunch after a mechanical in the early part of the race, which other nations tried to take advantage of to put him out of contention. Only taking up cycling in 2017, he was a footballer, playing for the youth sides of big clubs PSV Eindhoven and RSC Anderlecht. He also made 6 appearances for the Belgian Youth Teams, scoring one goal in his short career.

Evenepoel (red) playing in a youth game for the Belgian national team

A great level of awareness, and the ability to react quickly, aided Evenepoel’s success on the road, quickly learning how to read a race, and make tactical decisions. Also, Evenepoel’s (and his family’s) dedication was nothing short of remarkable, getting up early every morning to drive the 200km journey to Arnhem, and back in the evening after a day of training. Therefore, it didn’t come as a surprise that he often cites his weakened mental state as the reason for leaving football, although this likely conditioned him to be able to cope with cycling’s psychological demands.

Whilst researching for this article, what stood out to me was the mental strength of the athletes, being able to overcome setbacks and find an alternative, where many would have given up. Also, I think this article highlights the importance of doing multiple sports in adolescence, as the transferable skills picked up are shown to create a multi faceted sportsperson, aiding success in any sport or area of life that one goes down.

These two sportsmen are just a handful of sporting crossovers, and shows that they are part of a majority, rather than a minority of successful athletes switching paths to glory.

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