Southland born and bred, Eddie Dawkins “played all the sports”.
His best mate lived across the street and the pair were into basketball, rugby, cricket, water polo, you name it. Then one day Eddie knocked on his mate’s door “and he was standing there in lycra telling me he’d just been to the velodrome – I didn’t know what he was talking about”. The pair headed down and Eddie won $3 in his first race. “At 10 years old, that was a lot of money!” And so began Eddie’s love affair with cycling.
But it wasn’t all cash and glory for 10-year-old Eddie. What drew him to cycling were his mates. “Playing other sports, you only see your mates on game day. But we were training together and having fun all week.” And that motivation continued through Eddie’s cycling career. In partnership with Ethan Mitchell and Sam Webster, he has travelled the world living out of suitcases, putting in training hours, and racing at the elite level. “We’ve competed in the same order since 2010. We were always in it together and that was a big driver for my performance.
I knew that Ethan and Sam would put their bodies on the line just like I would.”
Eddie recognises all his coaches, including the late Laurie Tall who introduced him to track cycling. “I kept in touch with Laurie over the years. I think it’s important that coaches are recognised and respected at all levels.” Eddie explains that if you talk to any NZ Olympian, they’ll be able to tell you who their first coach was. “Whether it’s riding with a kid because they don’t want to ride by themselves or giving them an old helmet when they don’t have one, you remember those moments when you’re trying to perform in high-pressure environments. You remember when it was simple, and passion was the driver.”
For Eddie, “cycling was always fun”. It meant training and travelling the world with mates. His highest point was “when we won our first world title in Columbia. We were racing the German team who beat us in the final the previous year. We beat them and it was an awesome experience. It was the first time a New Zealand sprint rider had ever won a world title”. Unsurprisingly, Eddie’s idea of ‘fun’ is many people’s idea of sheer exhaustion. Training for the Olympic Games was a global tour. The trio began in the Unit-ed States for training then travelled to Germany “where the best competitions are outside of the Olympics” before Switzerland for altitude training and finally Bordeaux. But Eddie’s commitment paid off. Rio 2016 saw the team stand on an Olympic Games podium with silver medals.
Always looking to give back, Eddie’s passionate about fostering talent in sport.
“A lot of riders are left out for various reasons when they could have been brilliant with the right guidance.” As the forefathers of New Zealand’s sprint program, Eddie, Ethan, and Sam focused on creating an inclusive, collaborative team culture. “When I was starting out, a lot of older riders offered me advice, old kit, and spare bike parts. They didn’t even know me, really. So, I offer what I can to the community by passing on what I know.” On the trio’s watch, the days of juniors filling the bottles and carrying gear as a rite of passage was abandoned in favour of everyone working collaboratively. “That’s how we grew a lot as a program. We worked more as a team which leads to better performances – and you can have fun at the same time, which is important.”
Then Eddie called it quits. Aged 30, he retired the most successful New Zealand track cyclist at world championship level with eight medals, including three rainbow jerseys, plus seven medals over three Commonwealth Games. The cycling community said farewell to Eddie’s renowned physique, leave-it-all-out-there performances, and larger than life character.
Meanwhile, the three-time world champ has a new focus. Bobsleigh. “When the 2020 Olympic Games got postponed, I looked at my future and decided it was time to pull back from cycling and focus on my family.”
Now a happy dad, Eddie’s currently training with the New Zealand bobsleigh team. The next step is entering races “once the world has opened up a bit” on their journey to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. The team includes Nicholas Corban and Andrew Williams who invited Eddie to get on board, while Morgan Foster, Kiwi beach flags world champ, is helping the team with their speed.
Eddie’s strength coach at Cycling NZ, Angus Ross, is also sharing what he knows. “I said I’d give him a call when I retired. So, I rang him that day and said, let’s go’.” The group are looking to develop bobsleigh, push for funding, and create a women’s program. Eddie says that the plan is to reach out to rugby organisations. “There are a lot of guys and girls who aspire to the Rugby World Cup and Rugby 7s but with 30,000-odd rugby players in NZ, not everyone will make it. That’s a lot of lost power that we could take to the Olympics.”
While there may be setbacks along the way – namely with international travel restrictions – there is no doubt that eventually, this committed group of athletes will get the job done. And have plenty of fun doing it.
Special thanks to Eddie Dawkins. Olympian, cyclist, dad, bobsledder-in-training.