Two-time Trinidad and Tobago Olympian Njisane Phillip has officially retired from competitive cycling.
Phillip, 30, whose decorated career spans almost two decades, confirmed on Wednesday that he will no longer drape himself in the red, white and black as an athlete.
He did not give one central reason for his exit but believes the time is right to call it quits on an illustrious career, which arguably paved the way for a new generation of top-flight TT riders, particularly sprinters.
“I’m appreciative of my career and all those who contributed to it in any way. I’m leaving the sport as an athlete, understanding the situation and the many challenges the local fraternity is faced with, especially financially.
“I have no bitterness toward anyone and I’m just eternally grateful for my journey. To all those, especially my family, supporters and those who aided me throughout my career, thank you,” said the multiple national sprint and keirin champion.
Phillip has been representing TT since age 13. He was groomed as a young sprint cyclist under local club Rigtech Sonics, his father Mickey Phillip, mother Marie Dimsoy-Whiteman and step-father Phillip Whiteman.
His parent/guardian trio, partnered with a passion for speed on two wheels, played the most integral roles in his development from the junior category straight up to pro cyclist.
He has competed and dominated a wide range of regional and international circuits. Prior to the emergence of current men’s flying 200 metre world record holder and compatriot Nicholas Paul, Phillip was regularly hailed as the ‘fastest man on two wheels in the western hemisphere’.
That role, he said, was proudly passed on and well-earned by a speed-driven Paul.
Among his plethora of cycling accolades, Phillip hails his fourth place men’s sprint performance at the 2012 Olympic Games in London as his best. There, he also placed an impressive seventh in the keirn.
Although he fell just short of TT’s first Olympic cycling medal, Phillip is only the second national rider to achieve a fourth place finish at the quadrennial games. At the 1994 Summer Games, veteran Gene ‘Geronimo’ Samuel placed fourth in the 1km time trial.
In 2009, Phillip won the National Championships junior road race. The following year, he won sprint gold at the Central American and Caribbean Games and was third in team sprint.
He again teamed up with fellow nationals to snag another team sprint third at the Pan American Road and Track Cycling Championships later that year.
In 2011, he topped the field in sprint and keirin at the US Grand Prix of Sprinting and earned bronze at the Pan American Games. And prior to his historic Olympic performance in 2012, he pedalled to sprint gold at the Pan Am Games.
He produced four consecutive golden performances in 2013, starting with a win at the TT Cycling Federation’s Golconda to Chase Village course, Madison Cup (keirin), Challenge International sur Piste (sprint) and at the Fastest Man on Wheels respectively.
Phillip continued his dominance of the local, regional and international circuit and climaxed his illustrious career with a team sprint silver (with Zion Pulido and Keron Bramble) and keirin bronze at the Pan Am Track Cycling Championships in Peru in June 2021.
He however, does not want to exit the sport in totality and welcomes any opportunities available, particularly locally, to coach the younger generation of riders.
“I definitely don’t mind helping the youths or even coaching TT if the opportunity presents itself. I would like to get involved in coaching and guiding the younger cyclists. I would be interested in something like and working a proper plan moving forward.
Prior to his performance at the 2012 Games, TT had not been represented at the Olympics for three editions (16 years). Since then, he was the only cyclist to attain Olympic qualification for the 2016 edition in Brazil, where he placed 13th in the keirin.
Phillip does not believe his 2012 qualification revived cycling in TT. He thinks it re-established TT as a formidable sprint nation on the global stage.
“I would say I brought cycling back to the international level because cycling was always big in TT. Before my time, I always looked up to Elisha Greene (former cyclist, now national mechanic) because I liked how he used to win the scratch races and mash up the park (Skinner).
“That’s what I grew up watching and I liked that. Winning races, metres ahead of your opposition, and the crowd cheering, is what really fuelled my career. Local races built my career and passion. I actually preferred racing in TT because of the crowds and excitement,” he added.
Looking back, he’s pleased with his and TT’s accomplishments. TT now has its first two women’s pro road cyclists; Teniel Campbell and Alexi Costa. Paul and Kwesi Browne have grown into reckoning forces on the international circuit.
Bramble, Teniel’s brother Akil Campbell and Rudy Ashton are cyclists he also expressed pleasure working and learning with, as they came through the ranks.
“I am pleased to see what Teniel is doing on the road. She is doing things on the world tour and it’s incredible to see her improvements year after year. Similarly with Akil, I hope he gets an opportunity to get on one of the big or developing teams, I think he has the talent to do it.
“Kwesi and ‘Nico’ (Paul), the world is seeing what those guys are capable of doing. I just hope the support is there for those athletes. ‘Nico’ has taken it to the next level, having a world record and proudly representing,” Phillip said.
He praised past and present administrators of local cycling club Rigtech Sonics for helping pave the way for him and several other upcoming and current cyclists.
Phillip continued, “Rigtech has been a great support especially to younger cyclists. It’s a good foundation and family-like atmosphere which teaches you the basics coming up through the ranks. Most of the athletes today came through Rigtech.
“It has a rich history to prove that it’s a good start. They work with the youths from five years old and take you through the ranks yearly. They provide a good cycling base to be able to handle the pressure and take it to the next level.”
He closed, “I feel great now, reflecting back on it all. A youth man from Trinidad dreaming big and I feel very accomplished to do that in my timing. I ran on my own dreams. I enjoyed it all. I helped stamp TT as one of the big sprint nations and kept the tiny island high in cycling.”
Phillip is now married, has two children and anticipates a call to return to the track, this time, cheering on cyclists from the side line as a national coach.