Gary Neiwand is one of Australia’s great track cyclists.
The star sprinter won a total of 13 medals from having competed at the Olympic Games (two silver, two bronze), Commonwealth Games (three gold) and World Championships (three gold, two silver, one bronze).
In this edition of Crossing the Line Radio, which is also available on video, Gary, now 52, opens up to Rupert Guinness about his successes as an athlete, but also of his struggles and regrets. The Victorian still laments not winning an Olympic gold medal during an otherwise stellar cycling career, which ended after the Sydney 2000 Olympics and was spent mostly under then Australian head coach Charlie Walsh in a system dubbed by many as a merciless medal factory.
After the 2000 Olympics, in which he still won a bronze medal in the team sprint and a silver medal in the keirin, Gary was struck by depression and found himself ill-equipped to handle his post-sporting life. He was soon negotiating a minefield of personal issues, and a number of them under the glare of public spotlight when he had to face the Courts.
In March 2006, at the age of 39, Gary was sentenced to 18 month’s jail for stalking, with a minimum term of nine months, which he served. In September 2012, Gary received a suspended sentence of four months for indecent acts, and was placed on a good behaviour bond on condition he continue treatment with a psychologist at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health. Dark times indeed.
Gary talks candidly to Rupert of how his depression led to a reliance on alcohol, which in turn took hold of his life en-route to those darkest of days, including his attempted suicide just before his incarceration in 2006. Gary overdosed on medication and alcohol, but was then discovered in his car and saved.
Gary recognises that he is not the only athlete who has struggled as an athlete and then during transition into life after sport. He is certainly not the only cyclist either. A number of Australian cyclists – many, track sprinters like him from the late-1980s to early 2000s – also struggled.
However, Gary is today grateful for having found stability.
He even looks back on when his life bottomed out in prison, as a turning point towards a positive future. He has re-built relations with his former wife Cathy and two children Malcolm and Courtney. He enjoys his job as manager of Beasley Cycles, the bike shop in Footscray in Melbourne owned by former rider John Beasley, who is now the Malaysian track team head coach. It is Beasley who Gary credits most for helping him to get back on track. His life may not yet be all roses, but he is indebted for the opportunity it has given him, that he has weathered the ‘storm’ and can look to the future with renewed confidence and optimism.
As for his advice for today’s athletes? Gary says enjoy sport first. He also urges athletes, and those running sport, to not place so much emphasis on the need to win at all costs.
As he learned, falling short of a mark that a system puts in place – in his case an Olympic gold medal – can prove to be too heavy a burden for athletes to carry in life after sport.
Listen to the podcast above or watch the video here.
If you’re affected by any issues Gary and Rupert discuss, please:
Contact Beyond Blue on its website www.beyondblue.org.au or phone 1300 22 4636.
Contact Lifeline on its website www.lifeline.org.au or phone 13 11 14.