The Town of Bothwell will be represented on the world’s biggest sporting stage when Nick Wammes takes the cycling track for Team Canada this summer.
But Wammes’ journey to the Tokyo Olympics was anything but assured, from event qualifying to whether the games would even be held at all.
Wammes’ cycling success is well documented. He’s represented Canada at the Cycling World Cup and Pan American Games. At home he’s won numerous titles in the Canadian Championships. And he’s still just 21 years old.
Olympics were next up on Wammes’ checklist. Qualifying takes place spanning several race days over two years and near the end it looked like Canada would be held to one spot in the sprint categories. Wammes was planning to duel with teammate Hugo Barrette for the opportunity.
But good fortune struck when unexpected results elsewhere allowed both Wammes and Barrette to capture a spot. “It still boggles my mind how it happened but there were two countries we needed to not score points at Worlds and they didn’t score a single point,” says Wammes.
“We saw this and we were like… what? There’s no way! We couldn’t believe it.”
The turn of events took much of the pressure off and Wammes, who trains at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, returned home to Bothwell for a recovery week. Days later the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down the entire world.
About a week later Team Canada announced they wouldn’t be participating in the 2020 Olympics. “Obviously you’re heartbroken,” says Wammes.
But he held out hope Canadian athletes may get a reprieve. “At that point I had this feeling there’s no way the IOC would continue,” he says as COVID spread and more countries expressed reservations. Australia dropped out as well.
Two days after Canada’s decision the Olympic Games were officially postponed. Wammes says knowing their spot was assured meant athletes weren’t “panicking anymore about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to train. We have time, we can take our time and get back into it slowly.”
But getting back into things was anything but normal. The Mattamy Centre didn’t reopen until June 1. Even then only the track portion was made available. Wammes and his teammates, also roommates, turned their garage and driveway into a homemade gym until the velodrome’s facilities fully returned.
Now, Wammes and the team are finally back in full swing with just three months to go until the games. Wammes says a typical week is a combination of morning gym sessions and afternoons on the track. Saturday’s consist of a 90 minute ride around Milton, weather permitting.
“We’re pretty lucky that we’re the only group that trains here,” says Wammes of the facility and its occupants. “We’re in a pretty tight bubble.”
Wammes and Barrette will compete in the Sprint and Keirin events in Tokyo. Sprint races, which Wammes says he prefers, are a traditional race where cyclists compete one-on-one for the fastest time until medalists are decided.
Keirin racing, which originated in Japan, involves six riders following a motor bike for three laps before the pace setter departs and the racers sprint to the finish. Wammes says speeds in these final laps can reach 80 km/h.
Wammes plans on the usual suspects providing strong competition, such as the Netherlands, Australia and Great Britain. But he adds it’s hard to know what to expect this year since COVID has cancelled the usual competitions. “Until we get there it’s still anyone’s guess who’s going to do what,” says Wammes.
Wammes hasn’t raced competitively since January 2020. “We’ve done some simulated races with our team but it’s very different from being in an actual race environment,” he says. “You can train really hard but until you get into that race environment… it’s hard to simulate that and drive under that adrenaline and pressure.”
COVID regulations mean Wammes won’t have his family or the usual strong contingent of travelling Canadian fans at the games. The team will be flying in a few days after the games begin and leaving immediately after their events are complete.
But while some of the traditional Olympic fanfare may be lost, Wammes says he’ll be ready to go once he hits the track. “It’s been a very difficult year. I’m really trying to be ready to go when I get there and put on the best performance I can.”
Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent