Date: Friday, 08 April 2016

Southland track cycling sprinters Eddie Dawkins and Natasha Hansen will continue Southland's proud Olympic Games tradition this year.

The duo are two of four riders named to represent New Zealand in the first wave of selection for the sprint events at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Dawkins will be joined by his New Zealand world champion men's team sprint track cycling teammates Ethan Mitchell and Sam Webster, while Hansen is the only female rider confirmed so far as the first wave of selections for the sprint events at the Olympics.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee confirmed their selections on Thursday.

The crack Kiwi men's team sprint track cycling team have their eyes on only one prize in Rio in August.

That team will be extended to include the endurance component and possibly another two sprinters (likely one more male, and a female) further down the track, with this quartet the "no-brainer" component of the selections.

"The team sprint trio have raced together since 2010 and for the last three years they have been the fastest team in the world," said Cycling New Zealand high performance director Mark Elliott.

"They have a unique relationship as friends but also individuals who gel together to form an outstanding combination under coach Anthony Peden. This announcement means they can now get on with their preparations for Rio."

For Mitchell and Dawkins it's their second Games after finishing fifth in the team sprint in London 2012, while it will be the first Olympics for Webster, a triple junior world champion, who was squeezed out as a reserve for 2012 and has dedicated himself to making this team since.

The sprint team were world champions in 2014 and earlier this year, while in 2015 they were relegated to second for an illegal changeover in the final.

Dawkins, who will be chasing double medal glory in Rio as the likely keirin ace, said the trio had no problem with their tag as gold medal favourites and the expectation that went with that.

"If we weren't going there to win, we wouldn't be going," he said at Thursday announcement at the high performance squad's Cambridge Avantidrome base.

"We're definitely there to win gold. I'd be disappointed if we get second, so we won't be holding anything back."

And that status as the hunted of their sport?

"It's good," added Dawkins.

"We've proven our country is on the map for sprinting now, and that it wasn't just a flash in the pan two years ago. It's really good, and being the hunted is fine, because we're still hunting [our rivals] as well."

Hansen also gets the early tick on the back of her outstanding fifth-place finish in the sprint at the last world championships. It will be her second Olympics, but first real crack at a medal on the back of an outstanding rise through the ranks since returning to the sport after a post-London break.

"It was a massive improvement," said Hansen of her fifth at the worlds. "I hadn't competed at a world champs since 2012, so to come back and move up the ranks throughout the season, it was good to finish on a high and to know I still have so much more work to do and so much more I can get out of myself. It's exciting."

Added Elliott: "Natasha has dedicated herself after returning to the sport and is now achieving the level of international performance that we always knew she was capable of."

The remainder of the track team will be named in July, with London keirin bronze medallist Simon van Velthooven and Southland's Matt Archibald the chief contenders for the additional sprint spot up for grabs. There could also be room for another female rider to form a team sprint combination with Hansen.

Local endurance riders Nick Kergozou and Piet Bulling are also in contention for the New Zealand track team.

New Zealand cycling team for the Rio Olympics announced. L-R Sam Webster, Eddie Dawkins, Natasha Hansen and Ethan Mitchell.

Photo and article courtesy Stuff


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