THE BMX track in Horsham was a long way away from the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, but it was where Jason Niblett first started riding a bike.
“I was doing BMX, basketball and athletics, everything as a young kid,” Niblett said.
“The BMX club shut down but of course I wanted to keep riding my bike. My mum Joy had seen the velodrome all lit up at night for their club racing and she enquired about it. She took me to the club and that’s where it all started.”
Niblett thrived as a junior rider under the tutelage of Kaye Lehmann.
“She took me to national championships and junior world championships and transitioned me into the senior ranks,” he said.
“She played a big part in my life. Without her I wouldn’t have continued with the sport. She told me she could take me to a certain level and than I needed to move on to other coaches.”
Niblett’s father Ian also played a role in his development as a young rider.
“My dad was really supportive of what I wanted to do and both my mother and father played a big part in that,” he said.
“When you grow up in Horsham you have to travel a lot to competitions. Dad was always the taxi driver and was really supportive of myself.
“In the end he played a big part in the local club and became a coach and he just learnt to love the sport. He played a big part in not only my life but many others from the Horsham area too.”
After leaving Horsham, Niblett went to Melbourne where he attended the Victorian Institute of Sport. It was a move which he said was quite difficult.
“It was quite tough moving to Melbourne,” he said.
“I was not bad as a junior rider, but that step to seniors is a big step. I was in Melbourne for a year and then returned to Horsham for six months and then went back to Melbourne.
“It had some hurdles for me, and I didn’t make the quickest step into competitive senior riding. After about two and a half years I started to find my feet.”
Niblett attended his first world cup in 2006 and spent the next few years working at making the world championships in 2009.
“I went to my first world championships in 2009 but I had a crash a week before the event,” he said.
“My first experience at the world championships was pretty horrible.”
A surprise invitation to ride in Japan following 2009 ended up playing a huge part in his career.
“I ended up getting an invitation to ride in the Japan keirin series in 2010, which then led me into the Commonwealth Games in 2012. The keirin series was one of the only ways to earn good money without big endorsements.”
In 2012, Niblett reached the pinnacle in his career. He was part of an Australian sprint team that came away with a gold medal at the 2012 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
“It was amazing winning the gold medal and it was really special to share that moment with my teammates,” he said.
“It was that more special because individually we all performed so well. Each lap time we did was a personal best. We gelled into a Commonwealth Games record in the team sprint.
“In 2010 we had some big leaders in the likes of Anna Meares, Cameron Meyer and Shane Perkins, all these riders who had been world record holders or Olympic champions. We also had some really young riders, so it was a good blend. It was a good environment to be a part of and it helped create success.”
Post Delhi, Niblett set his sights on attending the 2012 Olympic Games in London, but things didn’t work out the way he had hoped.
“I chased the 2012 Olympics but my form wasn’t the best,” he said. “We also had the likes of Matthew Glaetzer and he basically took my position. He is one of the fastest in the world, and at that time he rode the fastest team sprint split in history.
“I was really disappointed I wasn’t going to be part of the team but to see someone take my position and ride that fast I knew I couldn’t really argue with that.”
After Niblett retired from competitive racing he was lured into coaching by Tim Decker, a fellow cyclist also from Horsham.
“I had no idea that I wanted to be a coach,” Niblett said. “It was through Tim Decker, the Australian national team pursuit coach. He knew I was going to retire and told me about a coaching position going at the South Australian Sports Institute.
“I thought about it and decided to go for it. My coaching has led on from there. Without him I wouldn’t be in the coaching game.”
Niblett is now a coach with the Japanese national cycling team. He said he never thought about forging a career in Japan as a junior, but said it was one of the best things to happen in his career.
“As a child I didn’t think of Japan as being a big part of what I want to do on the bike,” he said.
“Japan has been able to give me a whole heap of opportunities, financially but also experiencing a different culture and way of riding.
“I’m the assistant coach for the Japanese team to Benoît Vêtu. We came in at about the same time and have similar philosophies on coaching, so it has worked quite well.
“This year at the world championships we had a rider get a silver medal at the keirin, which is obviously our main event.
“That was the first time in more than 25 years that a Japanese rider had won a medal at the world championships. The bosses were extremely happy.”
During his time riding in Japan Niblett coached himself, which proved to be useful as he found his way into coaching post-career.
“If I didn’t come to Japan I would never have coached myself, which I learnt a lot out of and have brought into my own coaching practice in Japan,” he said.
Niblett is firmly focused on taking the Japanese team to their home Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
“We are training on what will be the Olympic velodrome in 2020, which is very exciting,” he said.
“We will feel quite at home come competition. The main goal now is the Olympics with Japan. Everything along the way is a step and experience towards that goal.”
Niblett said although he could be coaching against Australia in the Olympics, he will be quietly cheering on for his home nation.
“In the events we are likely to be competitive in there are so many variables,” he said.
“We could be competing against six different nations, not just Australia, so I don’t really look it at like that. Being very competitive, I want our riders to win. If an Australian wins, I will have a bit of a soft spot for them as long as our riders aren’t far away.”
“Obviously I would love to coach my own nation to the Olympics, but you never know what is around the corner. I am open minded about it all and in a coaching career it can take you anywhere.”