Trinidad and Tobago’s world-class sprinter on competing at the Tokyo Olympics Games

Nicholas Paul became the fastest man on earth in the Flying 200 when he shattered the world record at just 19 years old at the 2019 Pan American Track Cycling Championships in Bolivia.

Two years on and the sprinter from Trinidad and Tobago is preparing for the Tokyo Olympic Games, where he has qualified alongside compatriot Kwesi Browne to compete in the Sprint and Keirin this summer.

Paul, now 22 years-old, has a big future in the sport as he is looks ahead to competing in two more Olympic Games in Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.

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Paul and Browne are part of the World Cycling Centre programme that has been supporting athletes worldwide for nearly two decades. The WCC provides opportunities for athletes to learn and excel in the five Olympic disciplines of road, track cycling, BMX Racing, BMX Freestyle and mountain bike, while also developing cycling locally and internationally.

Cyclingnews: Can you tell us about your pathway into cycling?

Nicholas Paul: I started playing football, and cycling came about as a surprise to me, after I had gotten injured. I decided to ride my bike for fitness, to keep healthy and fit. A coach saw me while I was riding at a velodrome and asked me to join their club, just for fun. I was about 15 years old. In Trinidad and Tobago, football and cricket are the most popular sports, so I originally had aspirations to play professional football while I was playing with Naparima College on the school youth team.

CN: When did you start racing on the track?

NP: There were some local races that the Trinidad and Tobago Cycling Federation put on at that time, so I jumped into some local racing. I ended up qualifying for the team that competed at the Junior Pan American Championships, but at this point I was doing endurance track before switching over to the sprints.

CN: What was your first big championships event and how did you get selected?

NP: The Junior Pan American Championships was my first international meet. It was in Aguascalientes, Mexico, when I was about 16 years old, a year after I started cycling. The local club I raced for at that time was the Rigtech Sonic Cycling Club. Trinidad and Tobago looked at how I performed throughout the season and then they hosted a try-outs to see who would be the best to go to the Junior Pan American Championships, and that’s how I was chosen to the national team for that event.

CN: Can you describe the place where you grew up?

NP: I grew up in Gasparillo on the south part of Trinidad. There’s a lot of cycling and a few cyclists come from the area where I’m from, good cyclists. I don’t really come from a family of cyclists but my grandfather used to cycle.

CN: How did you get involved with an international programme like the WCC in Switzerland?

NP: My first season at the centre was in 2016 following the junior World Championships, and that happened through the identification programme. I was only here training for a few months at that time before going back home. I returned before the World Championships to train again the following season, again just for a few months. Now I’m here again, so for me, it’s been back and forth.

CN: Has the programme been beneficial for your career and performances?

NP: I love it here. It’s professional. You eat, sleep and ride … focus fully on training without worrying about anything else outside of your performance. I couldn’t have gotten this kind of support back home in Trinidad and Tobago because we don’t have a national programme or coaches. This was the best option for me.

CN: Did you go home during the pandemic?

NP: After the World Championships we went home for a break and that’s when the pandemic started last year. I was home for eight months and returned to the centre last October, where I have stayed ever since. It’s the longest time that I’ve been away from home, through Christmas, and that was different. My family are all well but I miss them and they miss me. That’s the hardest part; missing my family, friends, and the food.

CN: In 2019, when you were just 19 years old, you broke the Flying 200 world record in a time of 9.100 seconds, a record that was held for seven years by France's Francois Pervis. Tell us about that experience?

NP: I was seconds away from breaking it the year before, so I went into the event having prepared to break the world record at the Elite Pan American Track Cycling Championships in Bolivia. That was one of my goals so to see it come true was incredible. To become the world record holder… I was mind-blown. It took a while to settle in but I was just so happy that I did it and that the hard work had paid off.

CN: Did that performance open any new doors for you in terms of racing opportunity and sponsorship?

NP: I wouldn’t say that it opened a lot of doors but it inspired a lot of people in Trinidad and Tobago to know that if you work hard the sky is the limit. That has been one of my main goals is to pave the way for our youth, and not just cyclists, but to help youth understand that if you work hard anything is possible. I was happy to have been able to do that.

CN: What has been driving you to continue in the sport since breaking the world record?

NP: My main goal has been to qualify to the Olympic Games, and now that I have done that, my next goal is to medal at the Olympic Games. I want to represent my country to the best of my ability.

CN: Trinidad and Tobago have two sprinters qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games; yourself and Kwesi Browne. Are you training together to prepare for the event?

NP: We are both racing in the Keirin and the Sprint. It’s day-in-day-out training and a countdown to the less than 50 days to the Games now. My heart is racing and I’m ready to race. We travel to Tokyo around July 25 where we will meet our Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee.

Kwesi and I train together and motivate each other every day. We push each other to do our best and to reach Tokyo Olympics Games in the best fitness possible.

CN: Are you looking forward to your first experience at the Olympic Games?

NP: Yes, I’m looking forward to the whole experience. I have nothing to compare it to but I’m looking forward to the feeling of being at one of the biggest major games in the world.

CN: Do you feel supported by Trinidad and Tobago as an Olympic athlete?

NP: It’s a small country but everyone is behind us and rooting for us. We are carrying Trinidad and Tobago on our backs, and once you put on the nation’s red, white and black colours, you know that you have to go out there and perform. I feel like I have the backing from my friends, family and supporters, so I want to go out there and make them proud.

CN: Do you focus on the World Championships after the Olympic Games?

NP: Yes, I’ll have a rest, time to recover, and then I’ll return to the centre to prepare for the World Championships, and also look ahead to the Paris Olympic Games in 2024. At the World Championships I’ll compete in the Sprint and Keirin.

CN: Tell us what you like about competing in the Sprint versus Keirin?

NP: I love the individual Sprint because it’s one-on-one, mano-a-mano. I like the cat-and-mouse aspect of it, trying to read your opponent’s tactics, try to outwit him with your own tactics. The Keirin is also tactical but it’s not only one-on-one so it’s about how you race the race. There are six other competitors so it’s important to figure out how to use your speed effectively and moving around the other athletes.

CN: What are your thoughts on the new structure on track racing that begins with the Nations Cup, World Championships, and then the Champions League?

NP: The new structure is nice. I’ll be racing the whole Nations Cup and then Worlds for Trinidad and Tobago. Now you need to do the World Championships to qualify for the Champions League, which is good because those will be televised and people can watch the sport, which builds exposure for track cycling. The whole world will be able to see what really goes on in the track.

Also, the track season is more spread out and now we have more racing all year without that big downtime. We will be constantly racing and able to show ourselves internationally all season.

CN: How long will you stay with the WCC programme?

NP: I would be staying with the centre through to the World Championships and the track season. Due to the pandemic, the selection process for the next Olympic Games is earlier, so I have to prepare for those Paris Olympic Games.

CN: What is your longterm future in the sport?

NP: I don’t want to think too far ahead but competing in three Olympic Games would be sufficient for any athlete. I’ll be at Tokyo 2021 and I would like to be at Paris 2024 and Los Angeles Olympic Games 2028.

I’m still young, 22, so I want to see where life takes me and I'm enjoying the moment. If this life takes me into Paris and LA, I would never say no to it because I love cycling and I want to continue doing well.

About the World Cycling Centre programme

Home to the headquarters of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) is an elite coaching and training centre in Aigle, Switzerland. Opened in 2002, the UCI WCC welcomes more than 150 young men and women every year in cycling’s Olympic disciplines of road, track cycling, BMX Racing, BMX Freestyle and mountain bike.

These athletes arrive at the UCI WCC after a thorough talent identification process carried out in collaboration with the UCI’s five Continental Confederations. Since 2004, UCI WCC trainees have won 23 Olympic medals: three gold, 10 silver and 10 bronze either during or after their time in Aigle. Added to this are more than 70 UCI World Championship podiums including 41 titles of UCI World Champion across the different disciplines and categories.

As well as detecting, coaching and training elite athletes the UCI WCC provides training for cycling’s various occupations: coaches, sports directors, mechanics and soigneurs.