Biography

Alison Shanks had two strikes against her during her outstanding cycling career. She followed closely in the footsteps of Sarah Ulmer, one of the golden girls of New Zealand sport, so initially struggled to forge her own identity in the public consciousness. And her best event, the 3000m individual pursuit, was no longer contested at the Olympics in 2012, when she would have been a gold medal favourite. Nevertheless, when Shanks retired at the age of 31 in early 2014, she’d had a career anyone would have been proud of. It included six world championship medals, two of them gold, and a gold at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. Shanks, born in Dunedin in 1982, attended Queen’s High School. She graduated from Otago University in 2005 with a BCom in marketing and a BSc in human nutrition. She began cycling seriously in 2005, a tough decision because it meant turning her back on top netball – she had been in the Otago Rebels representative netball side for five years. However, Shanks quickly moved up the cycling ranks despite her international inexperience. In 2005 she finished third in the national time trial, but then specialised in the 3000m individual pursuit, the event Ulmer had made her own. She qualified for the bronze medal race against Englishwoman Emma Jones in the individual pursuit at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, but could not secure the medal. At her first world championships, in Bordeaux, France, in 2006, she was ninth in the individual pursuit. At the following year’s world championships, at Palma de Mallorca, Spain, she was eighth of 24 entrants in the individual pursuit. She improved to seventh at the 2008 world champs, in Manchester, England. Her times continued to improve leading into the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and she again narrowly missed out on a medal. She qualified fourth, and was still fourth after the semi-finals, when she was timed at 3min 32.478s. In the bronze medal race, Shanks was outgunned by Lesya Kalitovska of Ukraine and could manage just 3min 34.156s. At the 2009 world champs, in Pruskow, Poland, Shanks was superb. She won the gold medal in the individual pursuit and helped New Zealand – also including Lauren Ellis and Jaime Nielsen to silver in the teams pursuit. In the individual pursuit, Shanks was second fastest in qualifying with 3min 31.063s. In the final, her sizzling time of 3min 29.807s, gave her a margin of more than two seconds over silver medallist Wendy Houvenaghel of Northern Ireland. The New Zealanders could not match a crack British team in the teams pursuit, despite riding 3min 23.993s in the final. At the 2010 world champs in Copenhagen, Denmark, Shanks couldn’t repeat her heroics of the previous year. In the individual pursuit, she qualified third and missed out on the bronze medal when she was beaten in the race-off by Vilija Serekaite of Lithuania. In the team pursuit, Shanks Ellis and Rushlee Buchanan qualified third and then rode a world record time of 3min 21.552s in the bronze medal race, beating the United States by more than three seconds. The New Zealanders’ time was considerably faster than that of gold medal-winning Australia. The blistering pace she was showing on track continued at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. She qualified fastest, nearly 2½ seconds ahead of arch-rival Houvenaghel and in the final, her time of 3min 39.875s gave her a margin of 1.3s on the Northern Irishwoman. In the 500m time trial Shanks finished sixth. She also branched out into road racing as well and finished 10th of 28 starters in the road time trial. Shanks, coached by Craig Palmer, produced a silver medal performance in the individual pursuit at the 2011 world championships, in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. She qualified second, just behind American flyer Sarah Hammer and in the final was beaten by 0.3s. Shanks, Nielsen and Kaytee Boyd also picked up the bronze medal in the teams pursuit. They qualified third fastest and confirmed that standing by beating Australia in the bronze medal race. Shanks began to suffer increasingly from hip problems, but managed a second world championship gold medal in Melbourne, Australia, in 2012. She was easily the fastest qualifier, in 2min 27.268s and in the final her 3min 30.199s was more than two seconds better than Houvenaghel could manage. Ellis, Nielsen and shanks qualified fourth in the teams pursuit and in the bronze medal race were pipped by the Canadians. It meant that in the previous four world champs, she had won six medals, including two golds. With no individual pursuit raced at the 2012 London Olympics – very bad luck for the reigning world champion – Shanks confined herself to the team pursuit, where she. Ellis and Nielsen were fifth quickest in qualifying and could only maintain that position the despite their national record of 3min 18.514s. In the fifth-sixth ride-off they were too good for the Netherlands. Shanks had hip surgery in June 2013, but never really regained her form or fitness and after battling for a few months, accepted the inevitable and retired.

News and Blogs

Volkswagen announced Ali Shanks as Ambassador

02 October 2012

Volkswagen is welcoming World Champion cyclist Alison Shanks into the family today as an official Ambassador, further cementing their commitment to supporting the New Zealand Olympic team.

London Memories

20 August 2012

Olympic Mums

24 May 2012

Bring it on 2012!

16 January 2012

Cali World Cup

13 December 2011

Back on home soil

21 October 2011

Valuable miles

13 September 2011

One year to go

02 August 2011

Building the Engine

28 June 2011

On Track to London

24 April 2011

Related Resources

Chat with a Champion: Interview with Alison Shanks, Olympic cyclist

Videos

Full Ali Shanks

Ali Shanks worst crash