When Jair Tjon En Fa decided to pursue his passion for cycling, it seemed like an unusual choice for someone who comes from a country where there is no built track or velodrome.
In fact, most of Suriname’s famous athletes are footballers, and the country’s most successful Olympian is a swimmer: 1988 gold medalist in the 100m butterfly, Anthony Nesty.
What’s more impressive is that Tjon En Fa not only qualified for the Olympics (something his Suriname teammate Realdo Kenneth Jessurun did twice) but almost made it to the podium in his debut Olympics. placing fourth in the Keirin tournament at Tokyo 2020.
“Everybody was excited that I made it to the final and that I finished fourth because it took a very long time for anyone other than Anthony Nesty to make it to the Olympic final,” he told Olympics.com from Aigle, Switzerland, where he trains full-time at the UCI World Cycling Center (Union Cycliste Internationale).
“I’ve always liked running more than on the road. But we don’t have a track in Suriname, so I did my first track race in 2007 when I was about 13 and have loved it ever since.”
Leaving home was the only option to continue chasing my dream.
“From then on, my goal was to switch to track cycling, so when I got the chance when I was 17, I moved to Miami.”
Since then, Tjon En Fa has dedicated himself to track cycling with the dream of competing in the Olympics and is the only Suriname rider in the UCI Track Champions League.
Jair Tjon En Fa competes in the men’s sprint qualifiers during day four of the UCU Track Nations Cup at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome on April 24, 2022 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Photo from 2022. Getty Images
Tjon En Fa: Love at first try with track cycling
Tjon En Fa loved his bike. As a young teenager, he knew he wanted to be a cyclist and not follow the trodden path of some famous footballers from Suriname, such as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Clarence Seedorf, and Edgar Davids among others.
He also did not want to be a road cyclist, which is more popular in the smallest sovereign state located on the north-eastern coast of South America.
From what he watched on TV, he always imagined himself sprinting, but without a treadmill in his hometown of Paramaribo, it was just a dream.
His cycling journey actually started in Trinidad and Tobago, the closest track to home.
“I just went to try it out, also because a lot of people advised me it suited me better than being on the road,” she recalls. “I tried it and loved it. And then when I was 17 I got the opportunity to move to Miami where I could have a track. I lived in Miami for about six years before moving to Switzerland.”
The three-time silver medalist has been staying at the World Cycling Center for four years, improving his skills and training under the supervision of some of the best cyclists in the world.
“It’s just something I love to do. Many people ask me how to stay motivated? For years of doing the same thing over and over, it just comes from within. It’s not something I have to force myself to do.” – Yair Tjon En Fa to Olympics.com
Since his debut at the 2011 UCI Junior World Championships, he has competed in several World Cups. His round of 16 finish at the 2016 World Cup was his career best moment ahead of Tokyo.
The 29-year-old is a fixture among the world’s best track cyclists battling for glory in the UCI Champions League.
“I have been alone my entire cycling career. I’m used to it, so it doesn’t bother me too much. I just take it easy. it doesn’t really put pressure on me,” he said of his solo cycling career and getting used to the odd questions about his ethnically diverse country of around 600,000 people.
“Some people keep asking me where Suriname is… “is it an island? Is it in Africa? Is it in Asia?
Tjon En Fa: aims for Paris 2024
He likes to break barriers while pedaling.
At the Olympics in Tokyo, he almost fulfilled his dream of a medal for himself and Suriname. In the final, Keirin finished fourth behind Jason Kenny, who won his seventh Olympic gold.
“I was just really excited to get this far and also a little nervous about how the final went,” said Tjon En Fa, one of only two Surinamese to qualify for the last Games. The other was a swimmer Renzo Tjon-A-Joebeing badmintor Soren Opti had to withdraw before the start of the tournament due to testing positive for COVID-19.
At the Izu Velodrome, the British cycling legend surprised Jair and everyone with a frantic four-lap sprint to claim a unique solo victory.
“Looking at the video over and over, I always think I should have gone a little earlier, just to push the group forward. If I had attacked right after he (Kenny) left… it would have been a different, completely different race.
But even as he regrets his tactics that thwarted his best chance of winning an Olympic medal, he doesn’t forget what made his achievement even more remarkable.
He was the first athlete from his country in almost thirty years to reach the Olympic final after Nesty, Olympic champion from Seoul 1988 and bronze medalist from Barcelona 1992.
“When I came back to Suriname, it was really big because it was something new. It was just a lot of interviews. Everyone was excited that I made it to the final and finished fourth.”
He is also aware that his performance on the cycling track is a great inspiration for young cyclists.
“A lot of guys who ride in Suriname would love to do track cycling, but we still don’t have a track. Many of them go to Trinidad, which is now a satellite training center.”
Finishing eighth in the sprint at the 2022 World Championships held in October in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, host of the 2024 Paris Olympics, further dampened his appetite for the next Games.
“It didn’t go exactly as planned… I was able to do more,” he said of his best position in worlds history.
“While leading up to the World Cup, I got sick a few days before, which wasn’t very ideal.
“The most important thing for me is qualifying (for the Olympics), which means getting good results in the upcoming Nations Cup and next year’s World Championships,” he counted.
“Paris will be less difficult than Tokyo just because of the qualifying system. When I get to Paris, it’s a different way of thinking than usual.