Why? Seriously, it makes no sense. We have no big mountains to race down, our access to good downhill tracks is limited at best, the conditions here are incredibly different to those at World Cup races, and we have a relatively tiny talent pool for riders to come from.
Still, year after year, our pro downhill racers continue their run at the top of the World Cup circuit and once a year, our Junior and Elite racers band together to consistently take the number one or two spot in the team rankings at the World Championships.
Why Australia is so good at downhill racing is a common question. Pro’s get asked it all the time and I’ve definitely been asked it more than once during my time as the National downhill Coach. To be honest, I don’t really know the answer, but I have some theories. It’s something I’ve been thinking more and more about over the last year and here is what I think makes our racers some of the best in the world.
We have an extremely high level of competition at a National level.
Want to win a National round? Well you’ll have to beat the best racers in the world. Even if you want to make the top 10 you have to beat some seriously quick racers. Anyone coming up through the ranks has this as their target and this pushes racers limits to the max. Want to make the Australian Junior team? Well, you’ll need to have a finish at a National Round which would put you in the top 10 of the Pro class (I don’t like the term “Elite” for our top racers- these guys are Pros). Sounds a bit tough? Well, it is – but that didn’t stop 10 Junior racers achieving just this last year and 7 achieving the same this year. High benchmarks = high performances, and Aussie DH racers always rise to the challenge.
Aussie Pros are Pro.
We’re lucky, Australia’s pro downhill racers are some of the nicest and most down to earth guys you’ll ever meet. They are humble, committed and good at their jobs. Any pro out there knows that it’s their job to sell bikes for their sponsors. The other part of being a pro is building and developing the sport (partly, so there are more people to buy their sponsors bikes!). Australia’s pro downhill racers are fantastic advocates for downhill racing. They encourage the younger, developing racers and genuinely love the sport and want it to grow. This is a huge part of why the guys coming up are so good and why pro teams want Aussie riders. Our young racers have fantastic role models and this legacy of helping the younger riders and developing the sport is being passed down from generation to generation. Pro pros keep Australia at the top.
We have heroes.
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous point but without heroes in the sport, young guys don’t have much to look up to. Every year, Australian downhill racers provide us with a list of heroic stories to inspire and motivate their younger peers. And it’s not all about winning either- Sam Hill’s World Championship run in 2007 and his 3rd place finish at the Champery World Cup that same year come to mind. Mick Hannah racing and kicking ass with some serious injuries; Tracey Hannah and Bryn Atkinson’s come backs from broken femurs over the past few years; Rennie winning the World Cup when he was only 22; Troy Brosanan not letting injuries hold him back and working 110% to get fit again. These are all incredible stories and just the tip of the iceberg. You need heroes in any sport, and Australian donwhill has plenty.
Australian downhill racers love the sport.
The Australian donwhill scene isn’t without its problems. Low numbers at races, limited sponsorship, limited funding opportunities for young developing racers, a relatively high cost of racing, large distances between races and limited exposure to World Cup style tracks are just a small sample of problems Australian downhill racing has always, and will always have. And you know what? I don’t care. Neither do most downhill racers out there. Australian donwhill racers love the sport and everyone (well, maybe nearly everyone) involved is doing everything they can to help develop the sport. Australian racers do what they can with what they have and don’t let the problems get in the way. Our love for the sport and the determination of Aussie donwhill racers keeps us at the top.
If we can keep all these things happening within our sport, I’m sure Australia will keep producing world class donwhill racers and stay at the top. Downhill racing is a unique sport and a proud part of Australian mountain bike culture. If you haven’t checked it out before, well maybe you should. Nothing’s better than riding your bike down a hill as fast as you can go and a downhill bike allows you to go really, really, really fast.
Thank you to everyone who rides, the pros, MTBA and anyone in the Australian bike industry who supports downhill racing in any way shape or form for making it all happen. As part of a much bigger team, we can all contribute to keeping Australia at the top of the donwhill world for a long, long time to come.