By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Cyclists jockeyed for position through the Belgian countryside Sept. 4, where the competition was more about diplomacy than winning a place on the podium.
“Racing is like chess, it’s not always about power — it’s tactics and a little bit of luck mixed in,” said Capt. Ian Holt, 16th Space Control Squadron flight commander.
Holt is an avid cyclist and represented the U.S. armed forces in the International Military Sports Council road-race, or CISM for short. This was Holt’s fifth time competing in the event.
Formed in the wake of World War II, CISM was created as a way for Allied forces to retain their friendships and continue to grow their ties through the games of sport.
“Soldiers, who may previously have met on the battlefield, now meet in friendship on the field of sport,” he said. CISM has thrived over the decades, with more than 133 countries participating in a large variety of sports, including cycling.
“We represent our country and build relationships. It’s a big deal as far as relationships and how far that can go, the friendships, talking to each other before and after the race,” said Holt.
Holt never intended to become a cyclist, but when aspirations of being an ice hockey player began to falter, he found cycling was a way for him to stay competitive.
“I started riding in high school; my coach suggested that I cycle during the summer to keep in shape and out of trouble,” said Holt. “I’m a gifted hockey player but just not very tall. In hockey … if you are not that big that becomes a liability on the ice.”
During his time at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Holt trained and honed his skills as a competitive cyclist.
“I wanted to continue being on a team and competing, it is something that I have done my whole life,” said Holt. “They took a chance on me. If I had not been picked up by the (USAFA) cycling club, I would never have gone anywhere and riding would have just remained a hobby.”
After graduating in 2004, Holt continued to work with the USAFA cycling club as a coach and mentor to young cadets with interests in cycling.
“I am trying to grow the next group of cyclists. I can be a support guy for many more years but as for being a results person,” said Holt. “I know the sand in my hourglass is running out.”
Although Holt is looking toward handing the baton to the next generation Air Force cyclist, he spoke about a foreign competitor that became his friend over the years.
“I raced against him many times and got to be good friends. Then the year that we raced in his home country of Slovenia, he was giving me tips during the race because this was his home course,” said Holt. “He told me — stay cool, this part is not that bad, you don’t need to spend energy here — it’s interesting how you evolve and your relationships evolve as you get older and more experienced.”
It is these small friendships and relationships that are at the heart of the CISM events, where service members prefer to meet on the field of sport than the field of battle. In some cases, these relationships may even make a difference in future foreign relations.
“In these smaller countries there could be conflict down the road. This guy who you are competing against, but also are friends with, could become a colonel or general. They will remember — those Americans were some really good standup guys, they treated me well and the competition was fun and well spirited — and that type of interaction can really shape diplomacy,” said Holt.
After completing the 80-mile road race in Belgium, Holt emerged as the lead American cyclist, finishing in 11th place overall, but he still has his sights set on one final push for the U.S. armed forces team.
“The 2015 World Games in South Korea is on the horizon, and I will keep torturing myself until that point because the world games are a big deal and I would like to see a chance for the U.S. to medal, but after that my glide path is coming down,” said Holt.
Holt is looking to scale back on the sport of cycling and focus more on mentoring.
“I want to leave the program stronger than when I came in,” said Holt. “So if there are any Airmen out there who think they are too skinny and not athletic just because they don’t play football, remember, there isn’t any football in the Olympics.
“We will put you on a bike and you might have what it takes to go far.”