Tales from Beyond the Track: Volume 9

27 Aug

The podium moment is a coveted prize for track cyclists. It is in this moment where everyone will acknowledge the track cyclist’s victory. Any track cycling fan will know, wearing the rainbow jersey is something every track cyclist dreams of. Despite all that, the cycling podium is a rather very humble event, a far cry from other sports such as football, basketball, baseball, or even boxing where the victory is a frenetically euphoric affair. That’s not to say that the track cycling podium is a drab affair, rather, the track cyclist upon winning is given time to both celebrate and contemplate on his victory. Deep really is the sport of cycling. It’s not about trash talking or boasting, the victory here feels genuine and heartfelt. In our experience in international track cycling events, the podium moment is an emotional and solemn part of the event and it belies the true euphoria track cyclists experience.

The podium moment begins with waiting. After the final results are verified in any event (and verification is a really standardized and rigid process overseen by the organizing body and the officials involved) the track cyclist and the team is informed of the victory confirmation. At this point, some track cyclists are too exhausted to show their euphoria. Some track cyclists then make themselves presentable to the podium through simple things such as adjusting their hair (especially the women cyclists), while some male cyclists also make a quick fix to their hair by applying hair gel. Other ‘rituals’ done by some track cyclists include applying body cologne, making a quick trip to the bathroom, replacing their cycling shoes (which can be very awkward to walk with) or removing their shoe covers, fixing their skinsuits by removing any visible creases and adjusting the crotch part to avoid any visible awkward bulges, thoroughly rubbing themselves with a dry towel to avoid awkward sweaty hugging moments with the officials wearing business suits. Oh yes, these sometimes funny practices do exist among track cyclists and vary from one athlete to the next while others don’t have any of these ‘rituals’ and just go to the podium drenched in sweat and in their cycling shoes still with shoe covers! (in one incident, a track cyclist slipped while wearing his shoes still with covers).

When we first knew of some of these rituals it was quite funny but still felt totally rational given the fact that a track cyclist must look presentable in his very tight often revealing skinsuit in the podium in front of everyone and the media. Despite that, a lot of track cyclists I know have a problem with avoiding an awkward bulge when the podium moment arrives (Not that the bulge doesn’t look presentable but rather it feels awkward and embarassing to some). You see, this is a physiologic and neurologic response of the body to the intense excitement and euphoria a track cyclist feels after winning. In the end due to this euphoria, the track cyclist wouldn’t actually mind and simply forget it and would just laugh at the ensuing photographs which would showcase a prominent bulge. Yes, my dear readers, cyclists are very well aware of this bulge, but not in a vulgar kind of way. They would then proceed to joke about it. I’m then reminded to this time when we were working with this track cycling team, and one of our friends told this track cyclist who just won ‘pssst, hey your junk is sticking out’ to which this track cyclist promptly replied ‘oh hell yeah its sticking out, let it be, its happy y’know’ and we just all laughed.

So after the waiting, the track cyclists are called and line in a single file behind an entourage which includes the organizing officials (UCI and other sport officials), some podium ladies, or other people depending on the country hosting the event. After the podium is ready, the entourage is then called and the winners parade toward the podium area as the crowd cheers. One by one the winners are then called from the bronze, silver and gold medalist and take their place in the podium.

When the winners are now in the podium, the officials then proceed to the awarding of the rainbow jersey to the gold medalist (In some events the awarding of the rainbow jersey precedes the presentation in the podium). Anna personally believes this is an awkward moment since the rainbow jersey isn’t handed out to the track cyclist but is, how should you say this, forcibly worn into the track cyclist by the awarding official. So imagine this awkward moment if the rainbow jersey (a long sleeved non-zippered cloth jersey) is too small for the track cyclist, it would look like a mini-wrestle match. But Kean personally believes its a very personal and emotional moment since the rainbow jersey is only worn by a gold medalist.

After that, the medals are then awarded to the winners starting from the bronze medalist or gold medalist depending on the organizers. At the same time, gifts are awarded to the medalists and another official is tasked to give them and if it happens to be a lady, then the track cyclist will offer a kiss. Now, this for us can be awkward as shown in the photo above where Tim Veldt is clearly taller than the lady and he has to bend down for her to reach his cheeks. This is where some preparation before the podium moment pays off, it is but only proper etiquette for the athlete to be dry, and not drenched in sweat, and to at least smell good when standing in the podium (sarcasm alert). But of course, this isn’t a rule, and a lot of track cyclists hug and kiss podium ladies and even track organizers and officials while being drenched in sweat, with body odor emanating from the sweaty parts of the body directly through the skinsuit which may show visibly awkward bulges and worse, inappropriate boners (again which by the way isn’t exactly inappropriate as the phenomena is a natural and appropriate response of the body to excitement and euphoria). The gifts vary from country to country: flowers, mascots, stuff toys and other paraphernalia are given out to the winners. Probably the best one we’ve seen was during the World Track Championships in Australia, where they gave adorable stuffed koalas.

After the gift giving and the presentation of winners comes a very emotional part for both the winning track cyclist, his team mates and his country. The flag raising part where the flags of the winner’s motherland is slowly lifted up towards the roof of the velodrome while the national anthem of the gold medalist’s country is being sung. A truly patriotic and emotional moment indeed. We’ve seen some cyclists and team members shed a tear or two during this part.

After that the winners are again presented and the audience cheers for them, photographers get their best shot of the winners, and the winners themselves try their very best to look like the happiest people in the world.

Then comes the spontaneous parts, the winners themselves play out their bromances and mancrushes on each other, punching each other’s shoulders and shaking their hands, fist pumping, punching the chests, etc. Oh yeah, bromance is alive and kicking in the track cycling world. But of course, this really ain’t about that, podium moments are truly awe inspiring displays of sportsmanship and camaraderie. No one really boasts, and the other cyclists genuinely congratulate their fellow track cyclists.

Thereafter, the winners crowd the podium and wave to the crowd, raising their hands as a display of thanks, appreciation, and sportsmanship. Meanwhile, the photographers crowd the podium area as they try to get the best shots of the winners. Hundreds of flashes happen in mere seconds that some track cyclists actually remarked that the instantaneous flashes can be blinding and quite shocking to the senses.

In the podium of team events such as in the photo above, the track cyclists crowd themselves toward the center embracing and grabbing their fellow track cyclists in a spectacular show of bromance it’s almost borderline homoeroticism as the cyclists grab whatever part they can of their fellow cyclists: asses, shoulders, forearms, legs, etc. But then again of course, this is also a spectacular show of teamwork, sportsmanship and camaraderie all while the track cyclists are wearing very revealing skinsuits! As one of my friends once commented, this is like a throwback to the days of ancient Greece when athletes, practically naked during playing, commend their fellow athletes by hugging, and other sorts of homoeroticism. Truly, track cycling is a wonderful sport! But to see a podium ceremony in action check out this video.

Then again, what we’ve shared here ain’t a generality but rather what we’ve observed. Podium moments are themselves a very interesting part in the sport of track cycling or any other sport for that matter.

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