When Bradley McGee – one of Australia’s most successful Olympic cyclists with a gold, silver and three bronze medals, the only Aussie to have worn the leaders’ jersey for the Tours of France, Italy and Spain, and NSWIS’s High Performance Head Coach Advisor – spoke to the Institute’s latest induction of sailors last month, he shared a series of powerful insights about his own athletic journey.

What was perhaps most critical for the young athletes hoping to emulate his level of success was his pinpointing the three levels of his career from his days as a junior cyclist with Parramatta through to ‘mastery’ . . . the point where McGee became ‘the CEO’ of his own career.

McGee’s incredible career started in the living room of his family home in western Sydney on August 4, 1984, when he was inspired by the feat of four Aussie battlers who were pitted against the might of the United States on the velodrome at the Los Angeles Olympics and they shocked the world . . . 

The NSWIS Sailing Program inductees and Institute/Sailing Australia staff photographed with Bradley McGee include: Archie Gargett, Alexander Bijkerk, Sienna Brown, Daniel Costandi, Dervla Duggan, Daniel Links, Seisia Mair, Sylvie Stannage, Charlie Zeeman, Ken Lynch, Haylee Outteridge, Tony Outteridge, Traks Gordon, Anthony Quinn, Steph Alberts, Stef Maraun, Anna Longman, Chelsie Winchcombe, Adrian Filling, Iain Brambell.

Below is a version of McGee’s messaging to the latest inductees for the NSWIS Sailing Program which was held at the Institute’s HQ in the Sydney Olympic Park precinct.


When I was eight, I watched, on the tele, the Men’s 4000m Team Pursuit final at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics with my parents and brothers. The Aussies [Michael Grenda, Kevin Nichols, Michael Turter, and Dean Woods] were in a classic David v Goliath scenario against the Americans.

Australia was considered absolutely no chance of winning. The Americans had state-of-the-art equipment [including ‘super’ bikes worth $40,000 each], and, while it will sound astonishing now, they’d undergone blood doping, which, while it was banned after the Games, was perfectly legal at the time. So, the Americans had so much in their favour: expensive bikes, incredible equipment, extraordinary physiology, and a parochial home Games crowd – and add to that the feeling they couldn’t possibly be beaten.

On the starting line of the 4000m Team Pursuit there’s four riders abreast on either side of the velodrome.  They must complete 12 laps of the track, and whoever finishes first wins. However, at least three of the four riders must cross the finish line. I remember seeing the Aussie quartet get away to a good start, but the Americans were reduced to three men just seconds into the race. Despite all of their equipment and everything else in their favour, a toe strap . . . which was probably worth five dollars . . .  snapped, and [Dave Grylls] immediately withdrew. The Americans were up against it from the start, and the Aussies didn’t miss. They put in and won the gold medal!

My brothers and I grabbed our paper and pencils there and then. At eight years of age I’m certain they needed to help me with my maths to calculate when it was going to be our turn to compete at the Olympics. That was the big bang moment for me in terms of my Olympic journey.

In 2004 it was 20 years since Australia’s victory at LA, and I am a cyclist. I’d already been to the Olympics – a couple, actually – and won a few medals. However, four months before the Athens Games started my (Australian Olympic Team) coach asked one of the most powerful questions of my Olympic journey. Remember, I was a professional athlete and he asked: ‘WHAT DO YOU NEED?’  It was a simple question and I’ll explain soon why I had my answers . . ..

PUERTOLLANO, Spain: Australian's Bradley McGee of La Francaise Des Jeux rides in the pack during the third stage of the Tour of Spain between Cordoba and Puertollano, 29 August 2005. Italy's Alessandro Pettachi of Fassa Bortolo Team won the stage while McGee retained the yellow leader's jersey. AFP PHOTO/ Jaime REINA. (Photo credit should read JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images)
Bradley McGee of La Francaise Des Jeux rides – in the yellow leader’s jersey – in the pack during the third stage of the Tour of Spain between Cordoba and Puertollano, 2005.

LEVEL ONE – I’m willing to do what’s needed

Sometimes, though, I wonder how I would’ve answered that question had my coach asked what I needed when I was at Level One, a junior cyclist at Parramatta? I had a classic club coach, the late John Beatty, RIP, and he was all in, providing me with a stable environment. Eventually I was on the verge of being selected for the state program. I was what we today call ‘a pre-emerging/emerging athlete’. The truth, though, is I didn’t know much about anything.  But I was fortunate because I had expert instructors, and I was coachable enough to ask questions. I developed the attitude that I was willing to do what I had to do.

STAGE TWO – I have to do this

JB had the foresight to realise it was time to hand me over to the state coach, Gary Sutton. It was exciting, but I went from being willing to do whatever I had to, to having to do whatever I was told. Why? Well, Stage Two was bloody hard! It was many hours, lots of hard work on the bike, and I was introduced to strength and conditioning. I was in the state squad and while we didn’t have the categorising system of today, I was identified as a potential rider with the national team. The environment was this: big numbers, a little bit of sink or swim, and finding your own way by asking yourself: How are you going to put up with all the hard training? How are you going to recover? How are you going to maintain some sort of positivity? And that was Stage Two! I had learnt enough about some of the requirements of this journey to form the internal messaging to be of the mindset ‘I have to do this!’

Brad McGee Most Outstanding Card
Brad McGee Most Outstanding NSWIS Card

Stage Three – Mastery . . . I’m getting to do this!

Eventually, I graduated to Stage Three. As an athlete there was no more stages after three – and three was all about ‘mastery’.  My messaging went from me saying to myself ‘I will do what I’m told’ then ‘I’ve got to do this hard bloody work’ to, finally, the excitement of ‘I’m getting to do this!’ Why? Because I was now the CEO of my own career, doing my own planning, my own programs. So, with a professional career and two Olympics under my belt, I had the experience . . . the hard-earned knowledge . . .  to answer the Olympic coach’s question before Athens. I gave him a list. Why? Because I knew my needs. And I got to do that training [what I wanted before Athens] and it was wonderful.  Even though the training was insane – and this isn’t lost on athletes; I know the physiological requirements for sailing are demanding and many – you can imagine the level of training I did as a professional Tour de France cyclist and a member of the Australian Olympic Team. But my mentality at that stage was ‘I get to do this.’ Actually, I couldn’t wait to do it because everything I did was under my own volition, my own program. It was great. I had coaches, sure, but I employed them or when it came to appointed national coaches, it was a collaboration of my ideas and the coaches’ insights.

It was a wonderful place to be, but if someone had have asked me ‘What do you need’ when I was at Stage One, I would’ve had no idea. I would’ve said, ‘you tell me – you’re the coach’. I would’ve relied upon their expertise. Even had I been asked that question at Stage Two I might’ve given half answers. Maybe I would’ve had a growing expertise in one or two areas, but I would’ve relied upon my coaches to guide me for the rest. By the time I reached Stage Three – mastery – I knew what I needed.

BEIJING - AUGUST 17: Jack Bobridge, Graeme Brown, Mark Jamieson and Bradley Mcgee of Australia compete in the men's team pursuit track cycling event held at the Laoshan Velodrome during Day 9 of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games on August 17, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Australians Jack Bobridge, Graeme Brown, Mark Jamieson and Bradley Mcgee compete in the men’s team pursuit track cycling event held at the Laoshan Velodrome during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games.

Learning your stages

Right now, you are emerging and developing athletes in the NSWIS Sailing Program, so I guess there is potentially still lots of direction coming in. But there’s potential for you to move towards that mastery where we work in collaboration with the coaches and NSWIS staff. What helped me grow from Level Two to Three was simple: conversations. It was having the courage to have the conversations with my coaches. My Level Two and Three journey overlapped with my time at NSWIS, but not much changed in some ways because my coach became the NSWIS coach. Yet,slowly but surely, I built the confidence capabilities that were needed to have key conversations with him or my strength and conditioning coach. What I learnt was, in some cases, it was often the first time the coaches and service team had that kind of conversation with an athlete. I realised we’re all on a learning journey, and it helped me no end to have those conversations. I found myself leading those conversations . . . seeking those conversations. That was part of being at the Mastery Stage, and, again, it was such a wonderful place to be.

However, it’s important you don’t forget your teammates, your peers. That’s a special relationship. When I look back – I’m many years retired, so you often do that – what I hold most dearly is those relationships. The stuff you go through with your teammates, working hard, the highs and lows, it creates an incredible network. It’s those relationships I still hold that are higher and closer to my heart than anything [from sport]. It’s not me telling you what to do here, but I can’t encourage you enough to recognise the strength of those relationships with each other. Sometimes you can offer the support someone needs, other times you’ll need their support – we’re in a collective.

I’ll finish with just one question, and it’s this: What if in our training environments everyone was prepared to put in that extra one to five percent on any given day, day in, day out?

I ask that because therein lies the key to what I was asking myself at your age: ‘how the hell am I going to handle all of this?’ You see, what transpired wasn’t any major one thing, it was that day in, day out commitment by myself and my teammates to offer that extra one percent. Let’s not talk about medals, it’s about growth and fulfilling your potential. And for me, that is Level Three . . . that’s Level Three mastery.

Bradley McGee, NSWIS

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