Barras Expecting Track Troublemakers To Go Full Circle At Manchester World Titles
Sydney Morning Herald
Thursday March 27, 2008
MARTIN BARRAS is talking cycling, and for that much he is grateful. For now, the doping scandals, legal challenges and general controversies of four years past have not resurfaced. And on the eve of the track world championships in Manchester - a competition that will go far to determining Australia's line-up for the Beijing Olympics -Barras is content to be preparing for racing, rather than litigation.Not that everything has run smoothly for the coach. There remains, of course, the rather pressing matter of Anna Meares, the Olympic and Commonwealth gold medallist, who was omitted from the team this week due to injury and could accordingly miss the Beijing Games. Additionally, men's sprinters Shane Perkins and Ryan Bayley have recently been involved in a public spat due, some reports say, to Perkins's engagement to Bayley's sister. And then there is Mark French and Ben Kersten. Now firmly ensconced in the Australian sprint team, both cyclists were the subject of separate furores that threatened to destroy an already combustible team before the Athens Olympics. French made international headlines when drug paraphernalia was found in his room, prompting officials to hand him a two-year ban that was later quashed at a Court of Arbitration for Sport appeal. At the same time, Kersten was in the headlines for challenging his original omission from the Olympic squad which, in turn, angered incumbent squad members."In Athens, the most difficult challenge was just to get there with all the drama and pressure, whereas now the challenge is to work on our performance," Barras said. "Sprinters are volatile characters with big egos, so you're always going to be exposed to a level of challenges and questioning of decisions. But that goes with the territory. It's the dynamic of a group of good sprinters."For us, most of the work was done 18 months ago. We didn't want to get to a situation where we were in a pre-world championships or pre-Olympics scenario and had to address some of these issues. And because we did the hard work back then, it is paying dividends now."With Ben Kersten, it was reasonably simple to address. We talked a lot . . . [and] I just told him that any decision I made would be based purely on professional grounds. But Frenchy was a bit of a different situation; and more difficult."That French has made it back into the Cyclones squad is in itself an impressive achievement, following several years in exile and virtual retirement. But the most remarkable facet of his comeback has been the willingness of teammates to accept him into the fold, despite the fact he publicly named one of them, Shane Kelly, as an athlete who injected legal drugs four years ago.According to Barras, the road to peace began at a training camp in Rockhampton 18 months ago."We knew we had to do something," he said. "So it was decided we would have him sit face-to-face with each member of the team individually, along with a mediator. There were some hard truths spoken and at times it was a bit heated. But what needed to be said was said. "I was hopeful it had worked, and to me it was confirmed at the national championships when Frenchy beat Ryan Bayley. I watching the body language between the two of them as much as the racing, and I saw that not only did Ryan shake his hand but he also went over and spoke to him."So with controversies dealt with, the Cyclones must now reclaim their position among the world's elite track cycling nations - and a strong performance in Manchester this week will go far to easing Barras's mind.
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