Joe Truman hoping Olympic postponement can ‘play into my hands’ as he battles for Games selection with Team GB legend
For many potential Olympians, the postponement of this summer’s Tokyo Games came as a huge blow. Years of work - untold hours of training and competitions - had gone into ensuring they would be in peak condition come late July, and now their dream has been put on hold for 12 months.
Yet one potential member of Team GB, who used to train regularly in Portsmouth after being bitten by the cycling bug as a teenager, did not fall into that category.
Petersfield-born Joe Truman is happy to have been given extra time to fully recover from a back injury that first started to trouble him last summer.
And the 23-year-old can do with all the time he can get, as there is a major figure standing in the way of what would be his Olympic debut in the rescheduled Games starting in July 2021.
That figure is Jason Kenny, the man who has won the joint highest amount of Team GB gold medals in Olympic history.
Nine years Truman’s senior, Kenny has won six golds - the same as fellow cyclist Chris Hoy. Kenny scooped Team Sprint gold in 2008, 2012 and 2016, plus Sprint gold in 2012 and 2016. Completing a hat-trick in Rio four years ago, he also won gold in the Keirin category.
In comparison, Truman is still waiting for his first major international tournament gold - though he did win Team Sprint silver at both the 2016 European Championships and the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
He also won gold in two rounds of the 2016/17 UCI Track Cycling World Cup.
Truman is currently on lockdown at the house in Manchester - where the British cycling squad is permanently based - which he shares with two other riders.
He has some pieces of gym equipment to keep fit on, but obviously no contact with his usual team of coaches and sport scientists.
‘It doesn’t feel too dissimilar to normal life, I’m used to spending a lot of time in the gym or riding on my own,’ Truman said.
‘The Olympics being postponed has hopefully played into my hands. It means I’m not rushing my rehab now. When you’ve missed training, you do feel you end up playing catch up.
In terms of rehab work, ‘I’ve been taking two steps forward and one back … though I’ve been able to do gym work every day, we obviously haven’t got access to a physio and the velodrome has been shut.
‘As a sprinter I’m quite tall and not that bulky - my training is all about building up my strength and then transferring that to the bike.’
Truman is one a five-man team under coach Kevin Stewart - the others are Kenny, Phil Hindes, Ryan Owens and Jack Carlin. He won his Commonwealth silver in 2018 alongside Hindes and Owens.
All five men have achieved qualification for the Toyko Olympics, but only three will be chosen to compete. Because of where he normally rides in a three-man team, he is up against Kenny.
Moving forward, at present Truman’s major goals are the European Championships in Bulgaria next October, ‘though we don’t know if they’re going to go ahead.
‘There could be a UCI sanctioned event next February, that could be a crunch time.
‘If the Games had gone ahead this year I’d have been told at the end of May if I’d been selected, so I’m guessing it will be the same next year now.’
Given his recent history, Truman is probably better attuned to fighting the boredom of lockdown than many.
That’s because he spent two six-month spells at the Japanese School of Keirin Riding - six months immediately after winning his Commonwealth silver in April 2018 and again the following year.
The school has been described as ‘part military academy, part training camp’ and Truman admits it was a culture shock, but one that should only help him.
‘Keirin racing is a big betting sport in Japan, equivalent to horse racing over here,’ he explained.
‘There’s around 2,500 Japanese keirin riders, and only about five or six international riders who are invited to compete.
‘I was lucky enough to be invited, I signed a two-year contract for two lots of six months. I’m open to going back one day.
‘I went straight there the first time after winning silver in the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
‘I went from a big team environment to just being on my own in a small village 200km from Tokyo, it was a bit of a shock.
‘There are no coaches, no physios, I was literally on my own - but it was good progression for me as an athlete.
‘I had watched a documentary about keirin school life, but it was still a shock when I got there, but looking back it was good fun, a good life experience.
‘It was something I’d always wanted to do since I got into cycling, I’d had a soft spot for the country so it was nice to do it. Rather than just go there for a holiday, it was good to be able to live there.’
The highlights of Truman’s Asian adventure were the regular three-day race events.
‘The first day is basically an inspection day, a thorough check of your bike,’ he outlined.
‘When you race, you only race once a day. Before the race, you have to declare your tactics to reporters so they can feed the info back to the people who then lay the odds for people to bet on.
‘The races don’t attract huge crowds, but each race normally attracts £500,000 minimum in betting.
‘There’s an event at the end of each season, the Grand Prix - just for Japanese riders - where more money is bet on one race than in the whole of the UK horse racing betting industry in one year.
‘There’s a long warm-up, basically like a parade in horse racing, and the actual racing only lasts about a minute.
‘At each of the three-day race meetings we stayed in a dormitory attached to the track, and we had to give up our mobile phones, anything which had Wifi - we were on our own in a bubble.
‘It was good for me - a lot of the racing was in the velodrome which they’re going to use for the Tokyo Olympics.’
So, in amongst his gym work, what else has Truman been occupying his lockdown time with?
‘I’m playing a lot of guitar, I’ve been playing it a lot more often,’ he said.
‘I play mainly rock on my electric Gibson guitar, stuff like Guns N Roses that I used to play when I was younger - perhaps I need to update my repertoire!’
Before cycling took over, Truman played football - he was a member of US Portsmouth youth teams and was a good enough left winger to have had trials with Pompey and Reading.
‘I was born in Petersfield and lived there, but when I was playing football I was spending three or four nights in Portsmouth every week training,’ he recalled.
‘I was quite fast in terms of sprinting, but I kept on getting tired towards the end of each half. I took up cycling as a way to get myself a bit fitter and found I enjoyed it.
‘I ended up at the Mountbatten Centre and joined the Portsmouth School of Cycle Racing. I had trials for the Under-16 British team and I raced for the I.Team CC.
‘I kept progressing and in 2015 I was offered a place on the British Academy team in Manchester.’