Some say she was born to be a World speed skating champion. Mum Cheryl was a three times World champion and myself her father a coach of several World champions, plus the fact there were always champion skaters living at our house.
She started out in artistic and would have been a champion there. She was dudded by a couple of Judges who thought they could get square with dad the cowardly way and I found myself on the way to thumping a couple of the male ones. Fortunately discretion prevailed over valour and I stopped short. When Nicole’s coach the late Richard Balls passed away so many other coaches wanted to have Nicole. With my non love of artistic judging at the time we saved the hassles and stuck with speed.
Before she was three years of age she done a half marathon holding mum Cheryl’s hand around the Midland road skating and criterium cycle track. At that stage mum was there, so she had to be there.
When inlines came in everyone said tiny tots could not use them and the Australian champs were open to quads or inlines that year in Melbourne. Nicole fronted up to girls twice her size who wore quads, they beat her to the first corner then after that it was all one way traffic. The tiny inline skates showed just how fast they were, she went on to dominate her opponents.
Nicole has always been a self driven and a very determined individual. When the World champs were in Perth the late multiple junior World Champion Shaun Thompson, brother Wayne and Nicole were admiring the podium Shaun’s father Greg had built. As the boys were clambering over it Nicole went and shoved them off the top spot, threw her arms in the air and self-declared herself Nicole Begg champion of the World at 8 years of age. A hint to the future.
We all lived to tell the tale
The fact that Nicole along with the late Shaun Thompson, brother Wayne, NZ skater Phill Best, Colombians Jose Bustamante, Capeto and myself ever lived to fulfill our destiny was amazing. We had a major car accident where we slung a speed boat and trailer off the back, done a 180 degree spin and rolled about 3 times. Jose Bustamante in the passenger seat just woke me up in time to miss a major ditch on the roadside. The whole time I was talking to everyone and telling them not to panic as we were swerving across the road. Nicole was screaming in the middle seat and hanging upside down from the lap seatbelt. Jose was the first to quickly escape out the broken front windscreen because he was afraid the car would blow up. All seven of us escaped out of the car without one with a scratch, cut or bump. People travelling on the main Northern Highway from Perth to Geraldton that stopped were wanting to call ambulances. They couldn’t believe after seeing the state of the Nissan Prairie Waggon that everyone that had been inside was ok.
When the police arrived, I explained what had happened on the wet cold day. He looked at me, looked at the carnage and then looked to the sky and pointed his finger up into the air. He said “you must have a direct line to the man up there above us all, as when there are accidents here I’m usually picking up arms and legs. You guys have not even needed a band-aid, the lord really looks after you!” We wrecked a speed boat that I had brought as a reward for being alone in Colombia for five months coaching Colombia for the 1995 Pan American games. Also the car wasn’t insured so that was a written off so we blew about $20,000. When I contacted Cheryl she just said if we are all alive and no one injured then nothing else mattered.
A big milestone in Nicole’s skating career came in the year 2000 at the Oceania Championships in Auckland. She was twelve and at the minimum age to compete in the junior competition. The Australian girls were killing us the whole champs, but at about 4 foot 6 inches high on tiny skates with 4 x 76 mm wheels Nicole won the 21km half marathon.
In 2001 Nicole competed at her first junior Worlds in France. She had just turned fourteen but was so petite. She was around 10th in the road points race, but being so small the judges on the far side initially missed her and the photo finish camera malfunctioned.
In 2002 Nicole won three Oceania titles and tied for the overall junior girls title. At that years World champs in Belgium she wore 4 x 84mm wheels and raced on an experimental lightweight NZ invented wheel. Unfortunately two bad crashes and wheel breakages cost her dearly and saw at least one medal lost. Belgium was the year of the two’s. Two completely bust wheels, two crashes, chipped two front teeth in a big crash falling over others and spent 6 hours at the dental clinic with no anesthetic or pain killers plus two black eyes to top it off.
In 2003 at the Gold Coast, Australia she won all the junior girls titles at the Oceania Championships on 4 x 84mm wheels. After trying to use five wheel skates and tripping up she experimented with 100’s. So in 2003 in Venezuela Nicole became the first skater to race on 100 mm wheels at the World Championships on the track. The problem was only green Hyper, scooter and recreation wheels were available to us. So not a choice of good lightweight wheels, but she collected 4th placings.
2004 while still a junior she won all the Oceania senior road races and came 2nd in the marathon.
Living and racing in Italy 2004
In 2004 our family moved to Europe for six months and were based in Venice. Nicole skated WIC events for Hyper and raced throughout Italy. One race, the Forli to Predappio finished on the top off a hill. At the entry table we specifically asked to enter and pay for the senior race as the money for the win was far greater. Well she easily won the long hard race and then there was all hell to pay as the seniors complained she was only a junior and should not be taking money off the seniors. In the end Nicole got the senior money and the organizers had to compromise and pay the seniors the same money as well.
Worlds 2004, overcoming hardship
The Worlds were in L’Aquilla, Italy in 2004 and Nicole only had a shoe string budget that whole year. Leading up to the champs we didn’t have enough money to pay for her accommodation as she had to stay with the NZ team. This wasn’t going to stop her from competing, where there’s a will there’s a way. We travelled to St Kanzian, Austria for a WIC event. It was during the Italian holidays and the traffic holdup’s were horrific. So it turned into a 14 hour trip from the Worlds venue in L’Aquilla to St Kanzian and just a week before the World Champs. In order to get enough money for the accommodation she needed to win the race. She was cut of near the line and Cinzia Ponzetti went on to win and Nicole finished second. That race was on Saturday and the next morning there was a half marathon race in Padova, Italy with some more money up for grabs. She won the Sunday morning event in Padova and then had another car trip back to L’Aquilla. So three overnight sleeps in a van with little rest, having to tolerate my heavy snoring, racing a full and half marathon along with around 28 hours of travel five days before lining up for the time trial at the World Champs isn’t good preparation.
Well Nicole overcome all obstacles and adversity to be dubbed by skating scribe Marcello Bresin as Queen of the Bronze. She gained track bronze medals in the 300m time trial, 500 m, 1,000 m and 10,000 m points elimination. No gold but four medals, so well on the way.
No junior funding policy, sidelined for Worlds 2005
Like Shane Dobbin a few years earlier Nicole sat out her first available senior Worlds. It wasn’t really a choice we wanted to make but we had no money to send her and were still paying of debt from past trips. In the NZ team as a junior you have to pay for all your expenses, four World junior medals meant jack shit. Whereas seniors with a relay bronze could get Government sports agency (SPARC) financial assistance. So on a tricky track in China that would have suited her Nicole had to sit out the World Champs.
All about attitude
So while the World Champs were on her goal was to win the St Gallen Inline One Eleven, 111 km classic race in Switzerland. People said she was too young and couldn’t win it on her first attempt. Prior to the race we drove around the course and we got to the midway sprint point about 50km into the race then the first real hills started. Wayne suddenly thought it would be a shit race. Once we had driven the entire course Nicole simply asked me “dad if anyone is with me with 500 meters to go where should I start my sprint from”. There were no questions about the tough last 20 kilometers which was predominately uphill or the first 110 kilometers, it wasn’t an issue. Nicole sprinted in to win the race on her first ever attempt and is one of the youngest ever to do so.
Senior World Championships
In 2006 at the World champs in Anyang, Korea Nicole won the points elimination race on the track by a solo 3 km breakaway midway through the race. About an hour and a half later she was 3rd in the 1,000 m sprint and to top it off 2nd in a wet marathon. Nicole was 2nd overall on the track and first overall on the road. She came out of her first senior World Champs with a full set of medals and a rainbow jersey.
2007 in Cali, Colombia she went from nearly last to first in the final 400 meters of the 1,000 m final as the leaders crammed each other in the final bend. She sneaked up the inside with a last minute run, done some one-legged skating down the final straight to keep her skate on the track as she had earlier had a warning and lunged to win the World Title. This was once again only about an hour and half after getting 4th in the elimination race. She collected a bronze in the 10,000 m points elimination and won the overall track title. In the 42 km Marathon she had to chase everything in order to ensure no locals got a ride behind a motorbike, unfortunately in the final sprint that’s just what happened. Kelly Martinez got towed clear and the designated winner Liana Holguin was left arguing about her being robbed of the victory. Nicole was third in the marathon, taking home a gold and two bronzes from the champs.
Overcoming serious injuries 2008 and 2009
In what would have destroyed some other athletes Nicole came back from serious injuries to still medal at Worlds, even though severely disadvantaged. In 2008 she broke her jaw during a WIC race and her mouth was wired shut for four weeks and unable to eat solid food for a further two weeks. Everything she consumed had to be very runny and slurped through a straw. She wasn’t able to do a lot of weights, offskate/plyometrics or train like she usually would. While her mouth was wired and unable to breathe normally she raced a WIC over rough cobble stones and collected a 2nd in a WIC event. That year Nicole finished 2nd overall in the WIC.
At the Worlds in Spain she was 2nd in both the track points elimination and elimination races. Going for a win or nothing cost her a medal in the 1,000 metre final finishing up 4th. On the road she was easily leading the 10,000 metre points race when her and Liana Holgiun crashed and were unable to get back on the bunch. A probable win and certain medal were lost that day. Some shonky tactics and extra attention to Brittany Bowe at the end of the marathon saw a group get away and Nicole positioned behind Bowe lost any chance. If the race finished a few minutes later when the rain started it could have been a different story with Nicole taking a risk by being one of the very few to wear rain wheels. But once again overall World track champion and two silver medals.
2009 saw another serious injury when taken out when a team mate fell in Heerde, Holland. The result was two torn ligaments in her foot, but worse was to follow. After being misdiagnosed at the first hospital and a long car trip back to Switzerland she developed a possible life threatening blood clot. So no skating for a month and on blood thinning tablets for three months. She was not allowed to race and could only train in a controlled environment due to the medication and the risk of bleeding. Her first comeback race was at the World games where she gained bronze in the 1,000 m and 10 km points elimination.
At the 2009 World Champs in Haining, China Nicole won three bronze medals. Again she won medals in the 1,000 m, 10 km points elimination and 15 km elimination along with fourths and fifths on the road. She also came away winning the track and road overall titles.
2011 will Nicole equal or better her mum’s titles?
For the first time in the last seven years the WIC has not been a top priority. With new sponsor X-Tech MPC her focus has been mainly on the World Champs. With the wish to remain free of major injuries during the year and get a good shot of adding to her two World titles and catching up to her mother Cheryl’s three. During Cheryl’s career she won 3 gold, 6 Silver and 1 Bronze at World Championships. So far after four World Championships Nicole has 2 gold, 3 silver and 6 bronze senior medals. Cheryl one overall road title and Nicole three overall track and two overall road titles.
To date in 2010 Nicole has won the overall track WIC, Geisingen track and Chuncheon WIC events. Placed first in the distance at Heerde and second overall in Gross Gera. She had three seconds and one third in other WIC events only failing to podium in the Pamplona WIC.
During a mid season’s month break back at home in New Zealand she was able to get some good solid training in and clock up some miles on the bike. She arrived in Haining, China a little rusty for the International Skate Festival, but still made it onto the podium. She then stayed a couple of weeks in Haining to train on the track with new X-Tech member Peter Michael and prepare for the World champs.
Two weeks later in Korea she destroyed the field including the three World cup leaders to win the Chuncheon top class WIC event. The following week she skated away from ex World Champion and World cup winner Cecilia Baena to win the Jeonju marathon in Korea.
So with tough conditions, altitude, tricky circuit and after used to racing alone all year without any support it should be a good year. A young lady who has overcome adversity many times should be one of the successful skaters at the 2010 Worlds in Guarne, Colombia.
World Championships in Hastings, New Zealand 1989. Cheryl, Wayne, Nicole and myself.