Hard work and loyalty – Michael Mørkøv’s path to sporting success

There are days that are easy to remember. Among these is Sunday, August 17 – 14 years ago – when the Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing were ongoing. Early in the morning, the trip went from the hotel to the Laoshan Velodrome, where the preliminary time trial and quarter-finals of the 4 km team pursuit were to be held. Great Britain with Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins in the team were big favorites for the Olympic gold medals, while Australia, New Zealand and Denmark were among the other medal candidates. The Danish team, which consisted of Jens-Erik Madsen, Casper Jørgensen, Alex Rasmussen and Michael Færk Christensen, disappointed in the preliminary time trial with a 4th place – almost 3 seconds behind New Zealand and 5 seconds behind Great Britain. The ranking meant that Denmark had to compete against No. 5 – France – in tonight’s quarter-finals. During the day, the charismatic national team coach Heiko Salzwedel chose to replace Michael Færk Christensen with Michael Mørkøv for the quarter-finals, where Denmark delivered a formidable performance. The time of 3.56.831 was not only a Danish record – just 1.6 seconds off the GB’s world record, but also better than both New Zealand (3.57.536) and Australia (3.58.633). Denmark had thus – much surprising – qualified for the Olympic final and secured at least one Olympic silver medal. The morning’s disappointment in the preliminary time trial had suddenly turned to joy and excitement. The following day Great Britain won superb Olympic gold with a new world record (3.53.314), but this was a won silver medal and definitely not a “lost” gold medal for Denmark.

From historic low ebb to Olympic silver in record time

Prior to the Olympic final in Beijing, a period of 4 years had passed in which 6-8 young talents, with the financial support of the Danish Cycling Union (DCU) and Team Denmark, as well as the employment of an international coaching capacity, had “invested” a lot of time and efforts to recreate a world-class Danish 4 km team pursuit. Denmark had not qualified one single track rider for the Olympic Games 2004 in Athens, which was an absolute low ebb for Danish track cycling. However, DCU director Jesper Worre and sports manager Lars Bonde had identified great potential among a number of talented junior riders. And with Heiko Salzwedel’s systematic and scientific approach to training, equipment and competitions, a fantastic era for Danish track cycling started with lots of Olympic, WC and EC medals over the past 15 years. I got to know Jens Erik, Casper, Alex, Færk and Mørkøv as friendly, hard work and passionate cyclists who developed into world-class athletes in record time – but still with humility and mutual respect as personal values. The Olympic silver medal in 2008 and the World Championship in 2009 – both for the 4 km team pursuit and for Michael Mørkøv and Alex Rasmussen in the Madison – in the Polish industrial town of Pruszków still stand today as some of my greatest sporting experiences.

Exciting book about social relations and community

4 km team pursuit race is a fascinating sport discipline where tactics, technique, endurance, speed and discipline must be united by 4 different athletes. And the riders who started the golden era of Danish track cycling were very different. It also appears that Michael Mørkøv’s book “My way” (Turbine, 2022), which was published a few months ago. The book, which was written in collaboration with the journalist Carsten Ritter, gives an exciting insight into the social relations and the community, both on the 4 km team pursuit, in the Madison and not least on professional World Tour teams, which have been Mørkøv’s “livelihood” throughout almost two decades.

The newsboy with lots of defeats

Not all of the book’s chapters are equally interesting. But the chapters such as Michael Mørkøv’s upbringing and youth in Kokkedal and North Zealand should be “curriculum” for all boys and girls who dream of a life as a professional cyclist. Michael was not a bright talent when he started at Lyngby Cycle Club, but he was fascinated by the sport of cycling and did not let a lot of defeats put him off. The story of the mini-six-day race in Forum, the cement track in Ordrup, the new cycle track in Ballerup, the love for the family, the mates and the role models in the cycling club, the respect and trust in the youth coach Tom Breschel, the first sponsor, the newspaper routes that finance new cycling equipment, the roommate Casper Jørgensen and the education as a carpenter is top class. The same is true of Mørkøv’s decision 5 years ago to leave a strong training environment in Lucca in favor of the family – wife Trine and their three children Alberte, Frederik and Viktor – well-being in Rødovre. High priority of the family and a very disciplined everyday life as a professional cyclist is also clearly evident in sports director Tom Steels from Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team, double Olympic gold medalist and partner Lasse Norman Hansen, friend and national team coach Casper Jørgensen and wife Trine’s experiences of and attitudes towards the cyclist and the human being – Michael Mørkøv.

Lots of Olympic and World Cup medals – but never alone

Mørkøv’s greatest international sporting results have been unconditionally achieved on the track with Olympic gold medal in Madison together with Lasse Norman (2021), World Championships gold in Madison together with Alex Rasmussen (2009) and Lasse Norman (2020 and 2021) as well as Olympic silver medal (2008) and World Championship in the 4 km team pursuit race (2009) as highlights. And maybe another Olympic medal awaits in the Madison in two years in Paris. The experiences – victories, defeats, conflicts, disappointments, friendships and much more – on the track are described openly and honestly, but (unfortunately) not with the same degree of detail as everyday life and life on the professional road cycling teams.

Recognition from competitors and trust from teammates

Mørkøv’s role on professional cycling teams such as Saxo Bank (2009-2015), Katusha (2016-2017) and today Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team (2018-) has been – and continues to be – helping one of the team’s top sprinters to victory. The role of lead-out rider perfectly suits Mørkøv’s tactical and analytical skills combined with his courage and fearlessness. It is these abilities and a deep loyalty towards teammates and employer that, over a number of years, have given Mørkøv recognition among competitors on the best World Tour teams – and not least the trust and respect of teammates and world cycling stars such as Fabian Cancellara, Alberto Contador, Alexander Kristoff, Elia Viviani, Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish. There are extremely few athletes who win Olympic medals or World Championships without a large amount of training – and certainly not in a sport such as cycling. In my opinion, Michael Mørkøv is one of Danish elite sports’ very best examples of how hard work and loyalty are far better qualities in elite sports than talent and selfishness – both as an athlete and as a human being.