Big Interview: Preston BMX racer Ross Cullen is at the Tokyo Olympics

Craig Salmon talks to Preston's BMX race ace Ross Cullen who is at the Tokyo Olympics as a training reserve

Saturday, 24th July 2021, 8:31 am
Updated Saturday, 24th July 2021, 8:34 am

Ross Cullen could get a bird’s eye view of what it takes to become an Olympic champion over the next week

The Preston BMX racer has flown out to Tokyo as the first reserve and training partner of Great Britain medal prospect Kye Whyte.

Although 20-year-old Cullen will not be competing – unless Whyte suffers a late injury or illness – he will be tasked with helping his British team-mate and their female counterpart Beth Shriever win a place on the podium.

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Ross Cullen

Whether that is by pushing them to the maximum in training , talking tactics or tending to their every need when the competition hots up, Cullen is prepared to do whatever it takes to help his friends achieve their goals.

While Cullen – who learned his craft with Preston Pirates BMX Club, in Ashleigh Street – would much rather be the one who is riding for medals and glory, he knows the experience he is going to gain of being part of an Olympics will be hugely beneficial for the rest of his career.

Still young, the former St Michael’s CE High School pupil has the next decade of competing at the highest level to look forward to.

And being part of Tokyo is all money in the bank for the future.

“My role is what you would call a training reserve,” said Cullen, who is a double youth world champion – titles he won in 2012 and 2015. “How many places each country receives at the

Games depends on each country’s world ranking.

“You get three,two or one places per country and Great Britain only qualified for one place in the male and female competitions.

“So Kye got elected to be man one and my job is basically to be the wingman.

“ I am there in case anything happens because at the end of the day, BMX racing is a dangerous sport.

“I really hope nothing happens to Kye and he goes out there and gets a medal which he deserves.

“But if it does happen then that’s my role and I will have to be ready.

“The second thing for me though is all the experience I am going to get.

“My trajectory for Paris in 2024 and onwards is really good so this would just be about me experiencing an Olympic Games without the pressure of performing.

“I will get to soak everything up so that hopefully when we get to Paris, everything will feel a lot more familiar and relaxed for me.”

As it is, Cullen’s main focus is to ensure his team-mates are in the best possible shape to win medals, hopefully gold.

The qualifying heats of the event take place on Thursday, with the semi-finals the following day and the final scheduled for Sunday, August 1.

“We are like one big family,” revealed Cullen.

“Kye is a good friend and we have become a lot closer since I moved to Manchester two years ago.

“Even though it is an individual sport and you’re in it for yourself, at the same time there is a feeling that I am going to help him as much as I can.

“I am there to try to help Beth and Kye win what they deserve.

“If that’s pushing them in training or on race day, running around getting them drinks or whatever.

“As much as it is an individual sport, we are a really tight-kit team.

“We are a really young team. I think Kye is only 21, Beth is 22, I’m 20.

“I believe it’s the youngest GB team to have ever gone out to an Olympics.”

Cullen revealed that he has been undergoing testing for the Covid-19 virus almost on a daily basis to ensure the safety of all competitors in the Olympic bubble.

The young rider admits the past year in terms of dealing with the pandemic has been a testing time for him and all of his team-mates. Although in some ways there has been a silver lining with the delay in the Olympics affording him the chance of an extra year’s worth of development.

“The first time I had raced in about 15 months was at a World Cup event in Italy around April of this year,” said Cullen.

“Before that I hadn’t raced in all that time which is crazy to think that I started doing this sport when I was five-years-old and the longest I have ever gone without racing was probably five months.

“So you can imagine everything felt a bit rusty, but slowly and surely everything is starting to get back to normal.

“In a strange kind of way, what has happened over the past year has helped me.

“Last year was my first year as an elite athlete.

“I was coming in after a successful year in the juniors, winning the European Championships.

“But the step from the juniors to elite is big and the year off we have had has helped me massively.

“I have spent a year in the gym getting stronger and I’m a way better athlete than what I was before.

“If you can pick anything good out of a pandemic then it did do me a few favours culminating in going to Tokyo. The Olympics is going to be different to past Olympics but I have just got a embrace it.

“It’s important we all keep to ourselves, make sure we stay safe and enjoy it as best we can.”

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