Kiwi Grace on track for British return
Kiwi sprint coach Justin Grace was waging a private, personal battle that endangered his life as Great Britain's cyclists stood atop the Rio Olympic podium.
24 February 2017
Kiwi sprint coach Justin Grace was waging a private, personal battle that endangered his life as Great Britain's cyclists stood atop the Olympic podium time and again at the Rio Games.
Ten weeks after returning from Brazil as a key coach in a British team which won six of 10 Olympic gold medals available in the velodrome, Grace had a liver transplant.
The 46-year-old New Zealander, appointed sprint coach in September 2014, was responsible for seven medals, three gold, three silver and a bronze, despite his failing liver.
Grace told Press Association Sport: "Some people say they put their body on the line for work. I literally did.
"It was tough to do that, but that's my job and my passion. To see those athletes perform was at the forefront of my mind and I thought 'I'll worry about myself when it's all over'."
Grace would have taken particular pride in Britain's men's team sprint win ahead of New Zealand and France in Rio.
He had coached all nine of the riders on the podium in the prior three years, having moved to British Cycling headquarters in Manchester after 15 months in Paris following a move to Europe from his native New Zealand.
He helped Jason Kenny to three golds in Rio, as the 28-year-old took his career tally to six gold and seven Olympic medals in all.
Phil Hindes, Callum Skinner, Becky James and Katy Marchant all claimed medals in Rio, too.
Grace was particularly grateful when James and Marchant performed well in sprint qualifying to give him a much-needed morning off in bed, recuperating.
"To be the right person in that role, in a high-energy position for so many days, it was very, very hard for me, physically and emotionally," Grace added.
Grace did not wish to distract the riders under his tutelage and wanted to protect them from knowing the full extent of his condition.
He did, however, confide in head coach Iain Dyer, sprint coach Jan van Eijden and team doctor Richard Freeman, who kept a close eye on Grace. Dyer and Van Eijden at times demanded he rest.
His weakened immune system meant regular checks on his health were required and he would be forced to return home if he fell ill.
When golfers and others excused themselves from the Olympics citing the zika virus, Grace was amused.
"When I heard people complain about stuff, there was a lot of times when I had a little inner sigh to myself, thinking 'I wish I could tell you what I'm doing here - it might put your bad morning into perspective a little'."
Following the Olympics, Grace's condition was deteriorating and he moved on to the transplant list.
His recovery is going well.
"Being able to do my job properly in the future is dependent on how I look after myself now," he said.
"(But) it has been a lot tougher than I thought it would be.
"I set myself goals every day and every week to try to achieve.
"The first one was get out of my front door and walk to my gate. And that wiped me out for the whole day."
With wife Erika and daughters Cadence, 13, and Madison, 10, settled in Cheshire, Grace has even switched allegiance.
He will compete at the British Transplant Games this year and hopes to represent Britain at the World Transplant Games in future.
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