Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Okay, so that was pretty cool

I came to the Olympics with the belief that I was a medal contender, but respecting the level of competition in the women’s field, I was thinking a top 5 would be a great ride. To race all race in medal contention was awesome.

I didn’t have to convince myself that this was just another race to keep my head cool for race day. It’s weird but being here has not been overwhelming. It feels right. Like another World cup with more surrounding fanfare. The athletes around me look like me and my friends and everyone is so good at what they do, so the atmosphere stayed relaxed around the village.

The preparation.

Tuesday was my first training day in Beijing. I got out for 3 laps of the course with Marie. She kept asking me in various sections if this was the same as last year and the answer more often than not was no. The course was more rugged and even more steep climbs had been added. It was a super cool and interesting course, but very tough.

Every lap I was doing the steep chute faster and then final lap while trying to get in a tempo lap I took a big flyer landing with my back wrapped around a tree and struggling for breath. Dang! I hate ending training sessions like that. I got into a pretty introspective mood analyzing what caused me to crash and how I could make sure it didn’t happen again. The day before the Swedish rider broke her collar bone there and had to be sent home (replaced by a Slovakian rider) and apparently Gunn Rita cracked a rib.

The next day I headed out “to get back on the horse”. It was supposed to be an easy day, but I needed to get my confidence back. I was riding horribly till I cleaned the chute and gained that confidence. Another lap and I was feeling happy again.

Thursday – Pre race Day – I awake to pouring rain. Good thing umbrellas came in our care pack! Eating in the meal hall we are drowned out by the sound of constant downpour. This will definitely change the course, but probably not for the better even for me. It’ll become slick and thick and my confidence on the chute is still a little wavering. I want to know tire choice though and see what the course is like if this is race conditions so we keep to our schedule and head out in the rain.

It’ll be mud tires if this keeps up. The course is greasy and I walk the scary sections. It’s not worth a broken bone the day before the olympics to ride conditions that’ll most likely be better next day. 1 lap is enough so I just do some clearance and visit Waldek for a massage.

That evening, after Mary Mcconneloug and I spend 30 min longer than necessary to get back to the village (Taxi drivers here don’t really seem to know where the village is and often refuse to pick us up!) we get the call that the race has been postponed until Saturday at 10 am. I was actually relieved. I wasn’t feeling ready to go. Even though mud is usually my friend, my crash made me want to race in good conditions. Mud would have made it an awful slog. Now I had done my preparation and was being given a buffer to really get ready. As a bonus we now got to race in the morning. Good for both you at home and me who was wondering what I would do with myself all morning. I had the Bourne trilogy ready in my room for some diversion.

Friday – the real pre race day – The course has dried up a ton. We trained at 3 that afternoon. My legs feel decent and I do some intensity to clear them and zone in my frame of mind. I head out for one lap. Both male and female racers are lining the chute as it’s kinda greasy and sketchy. I take a deep breath and go for it. Clean it, give a huge sigh of relief and call it a day feeling ready to go. Marie later tells me both she and Irina and a couple others went down there, but are okay.

Race Day

Saturday – I have a wicked sleep and the alarm bolts me out of bed. I feel good, calm, prepared, confident. We hop the 7:30 bus to the venue. There’s definitely some nervous energy going on. Some riders have withdrawn into their ipods, others are hoping and dancing around. My warm up goes well, especially with the cooling vest to keep me comfortable. I see my family and Waldek before the race. Dan, my coach, has been with me all week as the team manager. Everyone is pumped. I get called up 3rd and “the most famous foreigner in China, a Canadian - get’s the crowd cheering a chant for Canada.

TV crews and team support withdraws and we’ve got 30 seconds to go. The gun goes off and I’m starting fast! Someone rubs my wheel and a Chinese rider goes down behind me. God the crowd is going to hate me! I then manage to fall back from 5th to 20th. Luckily this is pretty common and doesn’t get me flustered. I just start laying down the best power I can and passing whenever I can. By lap 2 I have caught the chase group. Sabine already has 35 seconds on us. Fullana, Maja, and Irina are right there. I close on them and hear the gap top Sabine. Too much, it’s time to boogey girls. I pass Fullana to grab Maja’s wheel. Down the next decent Irina takes the right line so I go left and get to the corner first. The previous lap I got past two girls doing this. Neither woman is willing to give up a medal position though, and Maja passes me on the next climb while Irina grabs my wheel. Over the following 4 laps Sabine and Maja stretch their lead on me while Irina sits in.

Lap 5 and 6 I know I have to shake Irina, but we’re just too evenly matched on the day. I try to stretch it on the climbs with everyone screaming for me. She keeps clawing me back, but doesn’t have enough to attack me. It’ll come down to whoever makes a mistake. After the chute final lap we have two climbs to go and two descents. On the last climb, an incredibly steep one, I consider whether to middle or granny it. I have to be able to respond to an attack. I decide too late, shifting under a lot of torque. The gears crunch and I have to dab. Irina yells and also has to dismount, but I can’t get off till she’s clear. We run up the hill with her in the lead and hop back on. Into the descent I’m unclipped and have to be a little cautious. I chase her down, but there’s not enough time. I round the corner to the finish as she crosses the line. I’m momentarily bummed, but decide I can’t be too disappointed with a ride like that. Being defeated in the final stretch by last year’s world champion, but getting 4th at my first Olympics, the Olympics I didn’t think I’d honestly be at 2 years ago is pretty freakin cool! I’m glad I was able to give you guys at home a show;-) Thank you sooooo much for all the emails and comments here. It was great to have so many positive comments to come home to when the media is so medal focused - they think 4th is a huge disappointment. I’ve never been 4th at an international competition when all the best women were there. Yes that medal would have been nice and I got a little choked up watching it being presented to Irina, but 4th is a huge accomplishment. My family, friends and the CCA staff were all amazing. Stoked for what I accomplished, not what I didn’t. Thank you!

8 comments:

Dan Hill said...

You were fantastic Catharine! Thank you so much for racing so hard with the Canadian Flag on your back!
It was a great feeling to tell people I had a friend bike racing in the Olympics and to see you persevering in an obviously dificult race was awesome.

See you in the "Loops"

Dan

Anonymous said...

You did amazing! You've had a great year so far and you did Canada proud.
Thanks for keeping up this blog. It's very interesting to be able to read about your experiences.
Cheers.

Melanie McQuaid said...

Catherine, I think you have had a fantastic year with exponential improvement and all the expectations are mounting only because people think you are capable of even more. No person puts any more pressure on you than you would yourself and although the medal was so close, next time it will be firmly in your grip. Nice job. It was fantastic to watch and super for Canada to see you step up at that level. Melanie M

Anonymous said...

Congrats on a great performance!
It was great to be able to watch the race live back home.
It was a bit heartbreaking to watch you ride 3rd most of the race to see Irena pop out just before the finish line in front of you.

Your 4th place finish combined with your great attitude and comments make me proud to be a Canadian mountain biker.

P.S. I remember racing the Test of Metal in 2007. I rode it on my single speed. You had caught me on the paved section a few hundred metres from the finish. Noticing I was spinning out in frustration, you gave me a fairly lengthy push to help keep my momentum (and a couple of finishing spots higher). I thought it was great sportsmanship from a world class athlete who obviously has a true love for the sport and respect of fellow racers at all levels.

Cameron Bahan said...

It was quite the race, very exciting ... we were up late with our fingers embedded in the couch. You did great, thank-you.

Ryan said...

Catherine, I'd like to congratulate you for representing Canada so well with your strong performance at the Olympics. I was really hoping you would be able to hold onto the bronze, but Irina I guess made one less mistake.

Also, I'm so glad that you have been able to be so positive when reflecting on the race. 4th at the Olympics does not earn a medal, but it is an amazing accomplishment.

So, one last time, CONGRATULATIONS.

Anonymous said...

That's an amazing story and a monumental accomplishment. It's also something we can relate to as hobby racers. You guys just go a heck of a lot faster but the thoughts during the race are the same. Bravo!

Allan said...

Catharine,

You raced your heart out and we are all very, very proud of you! You definitely represented! I think the neighbours were on the verge of calling the RCMP with all the cheering we were doing in front of the TV:-)

Winning 4th place is amazing in that type of atmosphere and venue. Your attitude exemplifies true sportsmanship at a world-class level.

We can't say it enough but "Congratulations!! The KBRA, Kamloops, and Canada are all very proud of you! Way to go!!!