Words and photos by Dean Koh
Calvin Sim, or ‘Chi Chi’ as he’s known by friends in the local cycling community, helped to break Singapore’s 20-year cycling drought with a gold medal in the men’s omnium track racing event at the 29th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur in August 2017.
Enthusiasts who have been following the sport will have to stretch their memories to recall the last time a male cyclist from our Republic won a SEA Games gold medal. It was during the 1997 Jakarta Games that Bernard Wong won the men’s point race.
For an event that involves non-existent facilities in Singapore, the 28-year old invested time and money to train in the United States for the six weeks leading up to the SEA Games.
A seasoned road racer and regular on the mountain bike circuit, Calvin’s pursuit of purity in the sport of cycling saw him make the switch to track racing just three years ago. It may take place within the confines of a velodrome, but track cycling is the purest form of the sport, where having one gear, one speed and no brakes puts skills to the test, he said.
For those keen on a little context, omnium racing is not quite about being first over the line, but about being consistent. Comprising multiple sub-events scored on points, the eventual winner of the race would be the rider who accumulates the most digits over the course of flying time trials, pursuits, scratch races and short distance point races. You could imagine it to be all about cranking as hard as you can, but huge demands are placed on a rider’s fitness, endurance and tactical nous.
To gain experience in the discipline, Calvin spared no effort in getting the necessary training and exposure, participating in track cycling competitions overseas in countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Australia.
Having given all he had into the sport, Calvin had even considered leaving competitive cycling for good had he not achieved the desired results during the recent SEA Games. He might have been confident of a podium finish, but it was clear that gold was the coloured medal he coveted the most.
“No matter the circumstances, we can still succeed, even if we did not have a velodrome,” Calvin shared.
It was a tall order taken on blind faith, but taking time off a busy work and training schedule, Calvin candidly recollects his experiences before and after his feat.
Tell us about your preparation for the SEA Games.
As Singapore did not have a velodrome for the national team to train, the Singapore national team based ourselves in Colorado Springs for a six-week training camp under the guidance of coach Andy Sparks and his wife Sarah Hammer. Andy was a former Team USA Olympic head cycling coach and Sarah is a four-time Olympic medalist and won multiple world pursuit championships on the track.
With Andy and Sarah’s knowledge and experience on the track, we were able to fast forward our learning and hone our tactics on the track. Their advice and inputs were certainly what made the difference for us on achieve our eventual success of three medals from the track during the SEA Games.
What were some of the challenges faced and sacrifices that you endured in preparing for the Games?
One of the biggest challenges faced was to base ourselves near a velodrome and finding a good coach to bring my performance to next level. In addition, I needed to plan ahead and have enough funds for my training and related expenses as a lot of the preparatory races were self-funded. I had to make sure that I did not run out of money before the Games!
Eight months before the Games, I switched from working full-time to part-time at local bike fit studio Loue Bicycles so that I could dedicate more time to training and racing. It was tough and unsustainable in the long run but it was worth it.
What was the first thing that went through your mind when you knew you won the gold medal?
I was super happy – all the training, hard work and sacrifices made for the Games were worth it. I also wanted to thank my teammate in the race, Goh Choon Huat, for helping with the victory because it would be impossible to win without him.
What kept you motivated during the tough times in preparing for the Games?
One of my teammates got involved in a serious training accident which nearly took his life but fortunately he managed to pull through. I wanted to make him proud at the Games so that kept me going. I was also motivated by the many supporters back home in Singapore.
Which bike did you use during your omnium race and do you have a preferred set-up for your race bike?
I used a Cervélo T4 track bike with Mavic track IO wheels, together with Fizik bar tape and saddle. My race bike set-up usually varies on the type of event and the velodrome conditions but a 48-teeth crank and 14-teeth cog (48T x 14T) would be my preferred set up.
What are your hopes for competitive cycling at an international level for Singapore?
My hopes are that I can see a velodrome in Singapore during my lifetime. With this velodrome, it could be a doorway to discover more local cycling talents developed through talent identification programs (similar to British Cycling) at a school or grassroots level.
Singapore cycling can be competitive at regional and international levels and young talents will always emerge through such talent identification programs. More people can pick up cycling in Singapore and I believe that it is possible even for Singaporeans to be competitive on the world stage.