Where do Australia’s finest athlete’s come from? One would presume it is from the bustling metropolis’ that offer the greatest access to resources, wealth and opportunity. However a brief investigation of Australia’s most successful athlete’s made me realise that a disproportionate ratio of our athletes are of rural rather than urban heritage. In fact 60% of the 2012 Australian Olympic team came from rural/ regional Australia. Cadel Evans hails from Katherine, NT, Anna Meares from a coal mining town in QLD named Middlemount and our current mountain bike hero Dan ‘Dmac’ McConnell hails from tiny Bruthen in Gippsland, VIC.
Having been involved in the sport of cycling for the best part of 20years now I have seen the stark differences in attitude generally speaking between those athletes coming from an urban setting and those who have been brought up on the land. There are of course fine athletes and very strong willed or driven athletes in our cities also, but it has always astounded me how the performance ratio is so far skewed toward those who live with the harsh realities of life on the land. In fact the phenomenon even has a research phrase attached to it. Sports researchers in Australia coined the phrase the “Wagga effect” to describe the high proportion of our athletes that hail from rural area’s. In fact, the most sporting town in Australia with more professional athlete’s per capita than any other town/city in the country is the small NSW cotton farming town of Narrabri.
One regional town not far from Narrabri is making waves in our sport of mountain biking recently. Armidale in the New England region of NSW is one of Australia’s highest towns, livestock farming hub of the region and recently the local MTB club took home 5 national championship gold medals at the National titles in Bright. Myself and Subaru-MarathonMTB.com racing team mate Mike Blewitt went to pay a visit to Armidale and compete in the ‘New England MTB club’s’ flagship event- the ‘12 hours in the Piney‘ to see what was in the water here that was creating such a buzz in the MTB scene.
Most of the water we encountered was non-potable. Hence, it was not the water that was creating world class mountain bikers. It was evident upon meeting all involved with the event that the local MTB community was driven by a group of highly passionate, down to earth and dedicated mountain bikers.
The event ran flawlessly and the track which was 1 of 4 MTB parks in Armidale was absolutely world class. The young cycling talent here have an absolutely remarkable trail network to call their local training ground. Myself and Mike rocked up with our fancy matching kits and bikes hoping to have an impact on the race. It was absolutely hard yakka up against the locals who pushed us right to the very end when we were pipped for 2nd place overall by 30 seconds by a team of locals.
With plans to host a national XC round here soon, and an airport with frequent flights to Sydney. Armidale has the capacity to be another real MTB destination on the map, with awesome road riding in the area also to boot. However, beyond the awesome trails/roads to train on. What I was witnessing and have witnessed over the years in Armidale and other rural sporting communities is such a strong sense of motivation and empowerment and support of local athletes. This I believe is the key to the success we are seeing of such clubs as the New England MTB club. No politics or free rides just belief, hard work and a strong drive to succeed. These are the traits that usually lead to success in the sporting arena and funnily enough are the traits that also seem necessary to survive in a rural environment particularly when times are tough.