Late for Nowhere

From life in Southeast Asia to backyard adventures in Kodiak, Alaska

SEA Games Preview Part 2: Myanmar Cycling Federation turns to academy for future

leave a comment »

Despite the meager medal count of Myanmar’s cyclists at the 2013 Southeast Asian Games, the hosting of the event in Nay Pyi Taw meant what could have been an unmitigated disaster for local cyclists became an opportunity for the next generation of athletes hoping to join the peloton. The Myanmar Times sent me to join the Myanmar Cycling Federation’s training camp in Nay Pyi Taw to learn how they plan to revive their fortunes.

Training on Mount Pleasant in Nay Pyi Taw.

Identifying talent

As a permanent resident at the Nay Pyi Taw Youth Training Camp, cyclist Soe Thant trains for 30-plus hours each week – mostly on the bike but also in the weight room two or three times a week for strength training. “It’s good to be at the training camp with a community of cyclists. It helps boost everyone to the next level,” he said.

Indeed, with the establishment of the camp in 2013 – using facilities built to house ASEAN athletes competing in the Myanmar SEA Games – Myanmar Cycling Federation (MCF) officials hope they will now have a foundation to build the sport from its bottom-dwelling status in the country.

The camp’s 415-acre compound includes a hospital, a library, two gyms, an Olympic-size swimming pool and 60 dormitories, each of which can house 80 athletes for a total capacity of 4000. In March there were nearly 800 residents at the camp, divided into two categories: 400 national-level elite athletes and 350 younger trainees in a development program. Since then, most of the elite athletes have departed for training camps in China, from which they will travel directly to Singapore for the SEA Games before returning to Myanmar.

U Kyaw Min Than, the deputy of the Sports and Physical Education Department under the Ministry of Sports, said that of Myanmar’s 44 sport federations, 26 are represented by athletes at the Nay Pyi Taw camp.

He said the youngest residents come to the camp from all over the country, starting from the grassroots level. Most get their first break by being selected to attend one of the country’s four state-run sports academies, located in Yangon, Mandalay, Taunggyi and Mawlamyine.

“Every May, students who have just finished 7th standard take part in sports competitions, and the academies pick the best kids based on their results,” U Kyaw Min Than said. “They’ll say, ‘You’re good for cycling, you’re good for boxing’ or whatever. The sports academy will look after their education until they finish school.”

From there, the standouts from each academy have the chance to be called up to train in Nay Pyi Taw. John Singh, the vice president of the MCF, said the federations tell coaches at each academy what they’re looking as far as potential athletes in their respective sports.

“For the MCF, we let them know what body types we are looking for in young athletes so we can develop them into good cyclists. The academies then send us a list of candidates so we can decide whether they can come and train here,” he said.

U Kyaw Min Than said most of the kids are in 8th to 10th standard when they first arrive in Nay Pyi Taw. “They have to go to school every morning. Their training happens after 2:30pm,” he said. Older elite athletes often enroll in distance learning courses from local universities, but they will soon have another option.

“In December we plan to open the Institute of Sports Physical Education in Nay Pyi Taw, where athletes at the camp can earn a bachelor’s degree in sports education,” he said. “But those who want to pursue degrees in other majors can still do distance learning through other universities. They are not restricted.”


Road coach Lu Jiang Zhong from China instructs elite cyclists at the top of Mount Pleasant.


Across all sports at the Nay Pyi Taw camp, there are more than 30 coaches paid for by the Ministry of Sport. “For foreign coaches, the federations study their CV and engage them for a three-month probation period with a three-month extension, and then extend the contract six months at a time,” U Kyaw Min Than said.

The MCF currently engages two international coaches: road coach Lu Jiang Zhong, and Amir Mahmud from Indonesia, who was hired at the beginning of the year to prepare the local riders for the BMX Asian Championships scheduled to be held in Nay Pyi Taw on October 31 and November 1.

Lu, who came to Myanmar in May 2014, was a cyclist in China for 10 years before earning a degree from a sports university in Kunming. Now 61, he’s been working as a coach for 30 years. “I’ve been in Myanmar for one year, and during that time I’ve learned quite a lot about Myanmar cycling,” he said. “I’ve found some very talented young riders here. In three or four years, the standard of Myanmar cycling will come up.”

He said the local riders “try very hard” in training, but they need expert guidance from competent locals who understand not only the physical aspects of the sport but also the psychological and cultural facets.

“The coach should understand the cyclist, not only in cycling terms but also his daily life. He should understand the character of the rider,” Lu said. “The coaches in Myanmar need to attend good coaching schools. A cyclist’s first coach is very important. If the first coach does not show him the right technique, his development will be hindered. The coach should match the caliber of the person he is training.”


A nurse draws blood for drug testing following a race in Mandalay in March.

Training and equipment

Road cycling coach Lu said that although the Nay Pyi Taw Youth Training Camp is a good facility contributing to the development of elite cyclists, there are still challenges to overcome.

“We have many problems like equipment and nutrition. There’s a problem with spare parts, like replacing worn-out tires, and some of the food served in the dining room is not appropriate for the sort of training they’re doing,” said Lu.

The entire budget for the camp comes through the Ministry of Sports, including the provision of equipment such as bicycles for the cycling team. During a training ride to top of Nay Pyi Taw’s Mount Pleasant, Lu also complained about the lack of heart rate monitors. “Most countries have heart rate monitors for their riders, but here in Myanmar we must take the pulse with our fingers and count using a stopwatch,” he said.

BMX coach Mahmud – who represented Indonesia in the SEA Games five times as a road cyclist, and who started coaching BMX in 2011 – was a bit more charitable in his assessment.

“The nutrition at the camp is fine. For me, if the training program is good, the riders will be good, and right now the training program in Nay Pyi Taw is okay. The main factor is the time required to develop good cyclists,” he said.

Along with the tighter training structure at the camp has also come increased scrutiny of athletes, including the institution of a drug-testing program. In February one cyclist tested positive for testosterone at a road race in Nay Pyi Taw and was promptly sent home.

“Locally, all the hospitals are trained for testosterone testing,” Singh said. “But at this point more advanced testing must be done by sending blood samples to Bangkok, which costs a lot of money.”

Despite its flaws, the Nay Pyi Taw camp has allowed many athletes, including Myanmar’s top cyclists, to focus on training in ways they never could before. On a typical day the elite riders wake at 5:30am for breakfast, and about an hour later they’re on their bikes, with morning workouts usually lasting three or four hours.

After a four-hour break for lunch and rest, in the late afternoon they head for the gym or get back on the bike for another ride. The only day off from training is Sunday.

This article was originally published in the June 2 edition of The Myanmar Times.

Written by latefornowhere

June 7, 2015 at 11:56 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: