Men’s flying 200-metre world record holder Nicholas Paul continued his dominance of the international track cycling circuit when he powered to a historic Commonwealth Games gold medal in the keirin event at Lee Valley VeloPark in Stratford, London on Saturday.
In the process, Paul became Trinidad and Tobago’s first cyclist to win gold at the quadrennial meet in 56 years; the last being a brazen double-gold performance in the men’s 1km time trial and sprint events by Roger Gibbon, at the 1966 edition in Kingston, Jamaica.
His golden display also ended the nation’s 48-year Commonwealth Games cycling medal drought. The last TT cyclist to medal on this stage was Ian Atherly, former San Fernando mayor, with his men’s sprint bronze at the 1974 Games in New Zealand.
Paul’s golden ride saw him capture TT’s first medal at the 2022 edition in a blazing performance which spurred an outpouring of congratulatory messages on social media from the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and host of other people.
After the race, a breathless but elated Paul told BBC One, “It was a hard race. I must say good competition and I came away with the victory so I’m happy. It was a long journey to get to where I am.”
Over the past four years, Paul has been training at the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Cycling Centre (WCC) under their specialist programme with coach Craig McLean, an English team sprint silver medallist at the 2000 Summer Games.
Paul, who recently recovered from a fractured collar bone, acknowledged the efforts of his WCC coaching staff for developing him into the athlete he is today.
“I must say big thanks to my coach Craig McLean. He’s been teaching me the ins and the outs,” Paul said.
In the six-lap medal race, Paul maintained second place behind race leader Shah Sahrom (Malaysia) for the first three laps. When the motorised pacer exited with three laps to go, Scotland’s Jack Carlin pedalled ahead and pushed Paul into third place.
Undeterred, and with just over two laps to go, Paul showed why he’s one of the best track sprinters in the world and began pumping his legs to easily accelerate past both leading cyclists.
The speedster was untouchable and extended his unassailable lead ahead of the bunch, which also included countryman Kwesi Browne, to seal a tactically sound finish and deserving Commonwealth Games gold.
When Paul made the break with two laps to go, so did Browne, but he was shouldered out of medal contention by the other competing riders and placed sixth overall.
After crossing the finish line, Paul pumped his fists in celebration while TT Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Diane Henderson jumped over rows of seats, almost falling, to get closer to the track to outfit him with a TT national flag.
She successfully delivered the flag and Paul pedalled around the track draped in national colours.
In the earlier rounds, Paul automatically advanced to the second stage when he won his opening heat.
Browne placed fourth and compatriot Quincy Alexander fifth in their respective heats, and were forced to contest the repechage heat (a final chance at qualifying) to secure a shot in the next round.
There, Browne won his heat and progressed but Alexander placed fourth and was eliminated.
Paul dominated the field once more in the second round and won his heat, while Browne placed second, to both affirm their spots in the medal race.
In the final, Carlin pedalled to silver while Sahrom earned bronze.
After Paul’s triumphant ride, tributes poured in, in celebration of the TT cyclist’s most recent achievement.
The Prime Minister hailed Paul’s performance via his Facebook page.
“Congratulations to Nicholas Paul gold at the Commonwealth Games. He destroyed the field. A heartfelt congratulations to Kwesi Browne for making the finals as well.”
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar also sent congratulations to him via Facebook.
Lovie Santana, TTOC Commonwealth chef de mission currently with the team in the UK, expressed elation with Paul’s mesmerising display.
“It’s great. The camp is excited and really happy. We are proud of Nicholas. A gold medal is always special at this level. We are so proud and happy to now receive our first medal for this Commonwealth Games, Birmingham 2022. Go team TTO,” she said.
Former TTOC president Brian Lewis also congratulated the sprinter. Lewis was head of the TT delegation at the Tokyo Games last year, where Paul made his Olympic debut, but finished sixth in the sprint and disqualified in the keirin.
Lewis hailed Paul as “world class.”
“Nicholas Paul is the real deal. He’s consistent. He showed that in Tokyo. He has shown resilience, indomitable will and desire to overcome that injury. It is obvious that he has learnt from Tokyo. His approach is much more assertive.
“He’s world class. What I like about him is he’s humble and doesn’t ever get ahead of himself. He’s coachable. The best of him is yet to come,” Lewis said.
Paul returns to the Lee Valley VeloPark for the men’s sprint qualifying round from 5.02am (TT time) on Sunday.