From velodrome to podium for Victoria’s Carey at Pan Am Games

TORONTO — It would have been sporting suicide of the highest order if the Juan de Fuca Velodrome, a legacy of the 1994 Commonwealth Games, had been allowed to atrophy into extinction because of neglect.

But that’s what things were pointing to, before a spirited rally by the Island cycling community saved the facility a few years ago. It turned into an inspired move, which led to Victorian Gillian Carleton coming out of the velodrome to win bronze at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

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Now comes the next one, Evan Carey of Victoria, who won gold with the Canadian sprint team Thursday at the 2015 Pan Am Games. The other team members were Hugo Barrette and Joseph Veloce as Canada relegated Venezuela to silver and Brazil to bronze.

“The Greater Victoria Velodrome Association has been a major help in my development,” said Carey, an all-rounder when at Oak Bay High.

“Without the velodrome, this would not happen.”

It almost didn’t in another way. Like Carleton, Carey only took to the Juan de Fuca velodrome as a way to rehab from injury. For former triathlete and road cyclist Carleton, it was after a car accident. For former track and field decathlete Carey, it was after a pole-vaulting mishap.

“I only rode on the velodrome as cross-training after injury, and I loved it,” he said.

“In just three years, it’s been a rapid rise … almost meteoric … from starting at the bottom of the barrel to now being in pursuit of the Rio Olympics next year.”

It hasn’t been easy, but then sport at this level never is.

“You need dedication and to put in the time,” said Carey, who credits Victoria cycling coach Houshang Amiri for his early development.

“Our Canadian national team coach Erin Hartwell says: ‘Cycling isn’t fun, it’s rewarding.’ If you put in the hours and let no one outwork you, you are bound to succeed.”

The goal for Carey, as with most of the more than 50 Island athletes at these Pan Am Games, is to reach the ultimate stage next year at the Olympics in Rio.

“I’d like to check the Olympic box off my list,” said Carey, also a standout sailor in the waters around the Island.

“But I’ll take it as it comes.”

On Thursday, it came out pretty well at the Pan Am Velodrome in Milton, a town near Toronto. And the question can be fairly asked, how many Carletons and Careys will the Milton facility produce in the years ahead?

In the Pan Am Games pool at Scarborough, Olympian Alec Page of Victoria placed fifth Thursday in the men’s 400-metre IM.

All eyes during the final two days of Games swimming will be on two-time Olympic medallist Ryan Cochrane of Victoria as he goes for gold in the 400-metre freestyle today and the 1,500 metres on Saturday to match the gold won by Saanich Commonwealth Place training-partner Hilary Caldwell in the women’s 200-metre backstroke earlier in the week. Cochrane began the Games competition by winning bronze, with fellow-Victorians Page and Jeremy Bagshaw, in the 4x200 freestyle relay.

Carey’s brought to 14 medals, including 10 golds, won in events featuring Island-based athletes over the first six days of competition in the Games.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

Twitter.com/tc_vicsports

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