'Rhino' van Velthooven charging for Rio

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 11:11 15/08/2012

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After "bringing home the bacon", Olympic cycling bronze medallist Simon van Velthooven is already eyeing greater feats.

The Feilding 23-year-old was greeted by his aunty, uncle and cousin, who held a doubled-sided sign saying "Rhino Rules" on one side and "party at his house" on the other, as New Zealand's athletes were welcomed home by a large, buoyant crowd at Auckland Airport today.

"This is what any sportsman wants to do, bring home the bacon for New Zealand," van Velthooven beamed.

Inspired by British cycling legend Chris Hoy, who secured his sixth gold, van Velthooven pledged his desire to follow in his idol's footsteps after spending a night on the town with him in London.

"This medal is just a carrot for the donkey in my eyes. I can't wait for the next rotation," he said in reference to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"The bronze is great, but after seeing Chris Hoy win his sixth gold, I want to go down that road for sure. After racing we talked more and more now. We went out and had a night together."

Van Velthooven passed his medal throughout the crowd to ensure the public got to share in his success.

"I want everyone to hold it and see how heavy it is," he said. "I can't wait to get out there and show everyone this medal and inspire some more people to do the same as what I did."

His aunty, Sue, believed her nephew had the potential to kick on and realise his lofty dreams.

"He'll be like a Rhino with a sore head waiting four years to do it again," she told Fairfax Media.

"He got a bronze in the Commonwealth so we thought he could do it. But the Olympics is a huge step up, you're racing against the best in the world.

"He wants to lift more weights and train harder. He's absolutely determined.

"These kids have been doing it from high school with the backing of their parents. It's only when they become elite athletes that they get any financial reward."

Watching the tense finish was hard for the family back home.

"It was so close. It wasn't good on us oldies when it's that close," she said.

Van Velthooven's younger cousin, 18-year-old New Zealand rowing prospect Louis, wanted to emulate Simon's courageous performance on the world stage.

"It was very inspirational, something to remember forever. It will be my dream to be there one day, too," he said.

Uncle, John, recalled jumping out of his seat after the agonising wait for shared bronze was confirmed.

"You always want them to medal but you never expect it. When it happened it was exhilarating," he said.

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- Fairfax Media

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