When a 15-year-old Ryan Bayley OAM entered the world of track cycling in 1997, it was a sport which looked vastly different to the one he would leave some 12 years later.
The only Australian track cyclist to win two individual Olympic gold medals at the same Games, the influence of the innovative and fearless daredevil from Perth, Western Australia is still evidently clear to this day.
On Wednesday 21st October 2015, this legacy will be celebrated with the highest honour which can be bestowed upon an Australian sportsperson, when the former world champion, two-time Olympic and four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist is Inducted as a Member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
Bayley entered the sport during his mid-teens, and first made waves at the 2000 junior world track championships in Italy. Though relatively new to the sport, he won both the sprint and team sprint events in a display which only hinted at the career yet to come.
Despite his early success at junior level, Bayley rated himself as next to no chance in his first senior foray on the international stage, yet walked away an unexpected world keirin champion at the 2001 world titles. He would also claim further gold in the sprint and team sprint at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
“That was a really big stepping stone for me, because it showed I could actually step up in the really big events and play with the big boys,” Bayley said.
How he made it to track cycling let alone become a world champion was unconventional. Devoted to motocross as a boy, he was forced into BMX racing after one too many blown engines.
He credits these roots for the devil may care attitude that came to define him as a track cyclist, and believes it allowed him to go further than any rider had before.
“I’d do things that other people wouldn’t,” he said.
“I’d do funny things that other people wouldn’t do. Just absolutely no fear when it comes to riding a track bike after riding BMX and motocross.”
“It just didn’t occur to me to be scared about it.”
With a surprise world championship and two Commonwealth titles under his belt, Bayley began to eye off the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. He focused purely on making the team first and using the Games as a learning experience for an assault on Beijing 2008.
In his own words, it was “head down, bum up, trying to qualify for the Australian team, [to] put that green and gold on and try to represent. And then everything started falling into place”.
Into first place in fact, as the West Australian made it through to the individual sprint final against reigning world champion, Dutchman Theo Bos.
In a dramatic best of three decider, Bos shot out to take the first race. He looked in the box seat to win the second and clinch Olympic gold, but with the Dutchman going all out for victory and assuming front position, Bailey trailed off to create a false gap. With his more experienced opponent lulled into a false sense of security, Bayley unleashed an explosion of force at the final corner and threw himself across the line to fight off elimination.
It was a previously unseen yet stunning display of raw power and mental strength in his first Olympics, which he somehow reproduced one final time in the third and deciding race.
Bayley started from the front but conceded once more in deliberate fashion, yet Bos had either failed to learn his lesson or backed himself in to hang on. As the final lap began, the Australian launched his assault and stormed past his Dutch rival to claim his first Olympic gold.
“The hard thing for me was to not let those emotions get control of me,” Bayley said.
“All your life you want to represent Australia. The biggest thing though was to not let it affect me.”
“It’s just me and the guy next to me. It’s not feeling the whole crowd, the people watching you, not all your family sitting down at three o’clock in the morning watching your race.”
Already a world champion in the keirin, Bayley proved too strong yet again across the eight lap event to win his second gold and emerge from Athens as the first Australian cyclist to ever win two individual Olympic gold medals.
Four years and another two Commonwealth gold medals later, Bayley was unusually out of sorts in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. A number of high speed crashes from his fearless approach to racing had taken a significant toll on his body.
“I put the helmet on and I was ready to go, but I just think the body wasn’t quite ready for it,” he admitted.
Finishing eighth in the keirin, 11th in the sprint and missing out on bronze in the team sprint by a heartbreaking 0.008 of a second, the end was in sight for what was a stellar career.
Having leant on his father at times of need, Bayley once again turned to him for advice.
“He’s been pretty much blind for most of his life but has always been one of those positive people in my life,” Bayley said.
“He’s always told me, when it stops being fun don’t do it anymore, just move on. And so I did.”
Ryan Bayley OAM announced his retirement in June 2009, leaving the world of track cycling as the most innovative, unique and entertainingly fearless man on two wheels.
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame Selection Committee Chairman Rob de Castella AO MBE said Ryan Bayley OAM was a revolutionary figure in world cycling.
“From the turn of the century, track cycling belonged to Ryan Bayley and Australia,” said de Castella.
“His efforts in velodromes around the world demonstrated the boldness and revolutionary nature of many Australian sportspeople, and confirmed our nation as a significant player in international track cycling.”
Bayley will be Inducted as a Member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame during the 31st Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner, held at Palladium at Crown, Melbourne – presented by Etihad Airways.