Local athlete nabs bronze in Tokyo Olympics

Spencer Fowler Steen

For cycling champion Luke Plapp, the Tokyo Olympics is a long way from his sporting roots in Kensington and Flemington where he first learnt to ride a bike.

But to the delight of his family and friends, the goal that he wrote down on a paper plate at a family barbecue when he was a kid has finally become a reality.

On August 4, Mr Plapp won a bronze medal in the men’s team pursuit track cycling after he was called up to replace his teammate, Alex Porter, whose handlebars snapped in a shocking accident during the qualifying race.

Mr Plapp’s aunt, Verica Jokic, who has watched her nephew pursue his dream of making the Olympics ever since he was a kid, said she and Mr Plapp’s family were so proud of him.

“We are so rapt; his mum and dad are beside themselves,” Ms Jokic said.

Mr Plapp, 20, was a spare rider in the Olympic team before Mr Porter’s accident.

Three weeks out from the Olympics, Mr Plapp and his team were training in Brisbane, and everything was on track for a great performance.

But in those final weeks of preparation, Ms Jokic said two unfortunate events almost stopped her nephew from competing.


About three weeks out, he had a big smash and lost about two weeks to recovery. Then one week out, he found out that his iron levels were really low because he was training so hard and had to go to hospital to get an infusion.


Despite the setbacks, Mr Plapp made it over to Tokyo, ready to support his team however he could.

Following Mr Porter’s horrifying accident in which he slammed face-first into the floor at more than 60kph, Ms Jokic said no one in her family knew whether Mr Plapp would be racing until they saw him on TV lining up at the starting line before the final race for bronze.

“When we saw him on his bike we were like, ‘oh my god’”, Ms Jokic said.

“Given the unfortunate accident, [the team] was just shaken up by it and wanted to do Australia proud, so they said, ‘okay, we’ll make a change and give it our best.’”

“We were absolutely relieved because we knew they were training so hard before the Games.”

But for the man with “no off switch”, Ms Jokic said it was hardly surprising her nephew had come this far.

Mr Plapp used to play for the Kensington cricket and footy teams when he was younger and started getting up at 5am to go on rides throughout the area with his dad, Simon Plapp, who introduced him to cycling when he was 12.

Within a couple of years, Ms Jokic said Mr Plapp started leaving his father and all his burly cycling mates in the dust.

“All he wanted to do was exceed in sport, he’s always been so incredibly driven,” Ms Jokic said.

Eight years ago, as a kid, Mr Plapp told his family at a barbecue that he wanted to be in the Olympics and compete in the World Championships.

Someone suggested that he should write it down, but with no paper available, he carefully wrote his goal on a paper plate instead.

For his family, watching him win bronze from their home in Maribyrnong was a surreal experience.

“It’s been his dream to achieve both of those things, and he has already,” Ms Jokic said.

Currently living in Adelaide where he trains at the Australian Institute of Sport, Mr Plapp has recently landed himself a three-year road racing contract with British professional cycling team, INEOS Grenadiers.

Once he’s finished up in Tokyo, Mr Plapp will keep on travelling – this time to Spain to train for the next three years – once again a long way from his cycling roots in Kensington.

But with the support of his family never far away, the sky’s the limit for Mr Plapp.

“At this stage, touch wood, he’s unstoppable,” Ms Jokic said •

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