Well first of all, never did I truly imagine myself to title a document as ‘2012 London Olympics’ and then proceed to write about my first-hand experiences. This was all still a dream even as close to nine months beforehand because at that stage I hadn’t even represented my country at a senior international level. As each world cup and eventually the world championships passed, my dream became more and more of a reality and sure enough I found myself lining up for the team pursuit in the green and gold (or shall we say bright yellow banana suits) for Australia.
“And I guess the good thing about bronze and 4th is that there is always room for improvement..! :P”
The Olympics were unreal; an event so large that thinking about it still blows me away. Everything was in gigantic proportion; the food hall, the village, the accommodation blocks, the seventy THOUSAND volunteers, crowds of supporters and the number of athletes everywhere, doing anything and everything around the village. It was hard to walk around the village without almost bumping into a runner or a cyclist or a walker. It was crazy. There was a hospital, a recovery facility, a beauty salon, a deli and a restaurant all WITHIN the village. There were three bag storage facilities and an enormous bike shed, JUST for people eating in the food hall. There were countless food stalls serving differently cooked chicken, beef, or whatever you chose to eat, in whatever style and flavour you could imagine. There were food stalls from every continent serving roasts and sushi to curries and dumplings. And yes, there was a McDonalds and yes, it was (like the rest of the village) all you can eat. That’s where I saw Usain Bolt eating two days before his event.
That was the trouble about the food hall. I got into the habit of playing eye-spy with celebrities and my normal 20-minute lunches would turn into 40-minute episodes. I was so in awe of what was happening around me that it took me a few days to snap out of it and focus on the task at hand. That’s why the team arrived a week before competition. Not just to get used to the track and adapt to the weather, but to allow for the enormity of the games to settle in. -For those who are interested, I did see Djokovic get swarmed by screaming girls, Phelps stalk past, head down with a hoodie over his face and sunglasses on attempting to go on unnoticed, Kobe Bryant, ‘cool’ as ever and looking snazzy in his Opening Ceremony uniform and of course, Bolt sitting in a quiet spot in the middle of two giant Jamaican teammates, huge matching headphones around their necks, chatting with over-exaggerated body gestures, bopping to music (or perhaps bopping to music that wasn’t actually playing?)
What was most peculiar was that if two people were wearing Aussie shirts, they instantly became good friends. We arrived at the food hall for breakfast one morning and sure enough, Leyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic sat down at the table opposite us. I got told off by Josie Tomic for constantly looking over my shoulder at them! Haha! That night at dinner, we were sitting near the swimmers and there was a free spot in front of me, but it was shortly taken that none-other than Leisel Jones herself. I nearly choked on my roast beef. Never in my right mind would I have thought this would happen. A star and idol of mine whilst growing up, sitting opposite me, in exactly the same situation, preparing for her event. I still can’t fathom that whole idea. Needless to say, I met many incredible people throughout those food-hall experiences and have memories that will last a lifetime.
After a few days I got my act together and started focussing on myself and the task at hand. I tried to ween myself off of social media because of the incredible support back home. It blew me away, but it was distracting and even though they were mostly messages of good luck, it honestly felt like I was being treated like some sort of star. I didn’t want to get carried away with it all in case I came home empty handed. At the end of the day, the races were yet to be won and if I managed to come home with a result, I would be able to celebrate and be a part of all the support later.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to attend the opening ceremony. Although a little disappointed at first, I understood where the cycling management were coming from. Cyclists weren’t born to walk; we get tired and
The Aussie Track Girls!complain after ten minutes. The opening ceremony took three hours of standing unless you wanted to stay the whole time, which would take five. Most of the athletes who went were going to go for the first half, but became so consumed by it all that they chose to stay. It wasn’t until the next day that they had realised just what they had done to their legs. Instead of physically attending, Amy, Mel, Jos, Anna, Kaarle and I watched it together on the television. It was a bit of a 3D experience because as each exciting event occurred, we could literally hear the screams from the athletics stadium across the village.
Race day eventually came around. Although we were the second day of competition, I have to admit, it was a little disheartening to see Anna and Kaarle come away with Bronze and the team sprint boys with 4th after they’d both set their hopes so high on gold. I really felt for them. Both groups had been going really well at training and had been setting personal bests, so it was pretty shocking to see just how much other countries had stepped up, particularly the Brits (as well as in the men’s team pursuit).
However, on the 3rd of August 2012, it was time to use that frustration to motivate us for our own event, the team pursuit. The team of Melissa Hoskins, Josie Tomic and I were chosen from four, a couple of days earlier based on our performance at the training camps leading into the games. We knew that we were on form and that this race would be a cracker. We couldn’t WAIT to give it to the Brits in front of their home crowd. I remember thinking that I was prepared for the noise of the crowd after racing at the London World Cup, but boy was I wrong. This noise was something else. The ticket sales were supposedly evenly dispersed between countries, but judging by the number of union jack flags around the velodrome, I’d say the split was a generous 95% British, 5% other. This factor, added to a low-roofed velodrome structure amplified the noise level to a hearing damaging 140 decibels whenever a British rider was on the boards – that’s the equivalent of an aeroplane taking off. Noise cancelling headphones became essential, whilst some riders such as Canada’s Tara Whitten were even forced to use ear plugs whilst in the pits.
In the qualifying round of the team pursuit, I was starting in the gate, Mel in second position and Josie at the top in third. We had done this before; we had raced with this combination on a few occasions and knew that it worked. I kept telling myself this as I stepped off the rollers after completing my warm up. I sat down in my chair and towelled myself down after sweating up a storm in the 28-degree indoor velodrome. I pulled on the upper half of my bright yellow, super tight skinsuit and squeezed my now short hair up into my aero-helmet. I looked over at Mel and Jos. We were ready.
We walked over to the row of chairs lined up against the wall near the steps leading to the track. Berthy and David Hayes (our suoniours) placed our drink bottles by our feet. We listened to the hype of the commentator roaring into the microphone as Canada set a nice time of 3:19.816. I was feeling relatively calm. Just because it was the Olympics didn’t mean we had to treat this race any differently. All we had to do was ride as fast as we could, as we did at our trials in Italy the week before, as we did at the World Championships a few months before that and as we did at our trials the week before that.
Jos, as usual, was calm, with a look of seriousness on her face. Mel, as usual, was freaking out. This didn’t worry Jos or I as we knew that this was how she handled her nerves. She did this before the World Championships where she rode really well, we just needed to assure her she’d be ok.
Sure enough, our time was up. Coach Gary Sutton signalled for us to head up to the start line where my bike was getting locked into position in the start gate. I took a deep breath and swung my leg over my bike, as I had done countless times before. After a few words from Sutto and a 50 second countdown later, we were off.
We had a clean start but something didn’t feel right. My legs were unusually heavy. I found it a lot harder to push the gear than I’d have liked. We pushed on though and rode well together, pulling even turns. We knew we were on form and were in for a good time, so when we looked up at the board and saw a disappointing 3:19:719 written next to ‘AUSTRALIA’, we were genuinely shocked. After two great training camps where we demonstrated personal bests of up to two seconds, we honestly thought we would ride a 3:15 pace, especially given the hot conditions in the velodrome. That hurt. Not just because of the physical pain we’d just put ourselves through, but to see a time 4 seconds off a realistic goal of ours was pretty tough to handle.
What was worse, was that we qualified 3rd fastest. After coming second at the Track World Championships four months earlier with a considerable gap to third, we thought we would be racing for gold or silver. This isn’t to say that we became too comfortable. We gave absolutely everything at training, we gave absolutely everything in that ride, we just came in with high expectations and didn’t perform at the level we would have liked.
I failed to mention that the Brits rode an incredible time of 3:15.6. Yep, the time we had hoped to do ourselves. This also proved that it wasn’t such a slow track after-all. It wasn’t over yet however as the Olympic team pursuit qualifying format meant that there were three rounds, instead of two.
We took our time and headed back to our apartment, making sure we recovered as best as we possibly could. Our next ride wasn’t until the following evening so we had a bit of time to process what had just happened and discuss what we could perhaps change to ensure a faster ride the next day. The team was to stay the same, in the same order. I changed my gear down a fraction, to try and avoid the ‘heavy feel’ from the day before.
We headed out onto the track for the 2nd of three rides. Due to the Olympic format, the 1st qualifier would verse 4th and 2nd would verse 3rd, with the winners from each heat progressing to the gold/silver finals and the losers to the bronze/4th. We were therefore up against USA. Although the team rode a great time of 3:16.935 we were beaten by 0.08 of a second.
Damn. The two guns fired at practically the same time, so to look up at the scoreboard and see a number ‘2’ beside our name was gut-wrenching. The time didn’t matter. We had missed the gold/silver final and would be riding off for bronze in less than two hours time.
It was pretty tough to handle, but there was no time to dwell on that ride because there was a bronze medal at stake and we certainly didn’t want to go home empty handed. After a warm down, we all hopped off the rollers and headed to the lounge room underneath the track, with our teammate Amy Cure and coach Gary Sutton. Even though the Canadians had lost to the Brits, they had still ridden a very similar time to us; 3:17.454 which meant we were definitely going to be up for a fight. We were going to have to ride another 3:16 if we wanted to come home with the Bronze. It was for this reason that the team and order remained the same; we were going to stick with what we knew had worked.
We were not going to go home empty handed. We were ready for a fight. Every second of every day had been put into this moment. Just 3 minutes and 16seconds worth of effort. That was it.
We headed out there and gave it everything. Absolutely everything. We worked well as a team, took our turns perfectly and were neck and neck with the Canadians the entire race. At one point we were up, the next we were down. The roar from the crowd was ear-shattering, but surprisingly I could still hear my breathing getting faster and faster inside my aero helmet. Two guns fired, so close together that once again we couldn’t decipher who had won. My uncomfortable feeling was confirmed when I looked up, this time to see a “4th” next to Australia, by .01 of a second. That was one of the most disappointing moments of my career. After having such high aspirations of becoming Olympic Champions, to not even getting a medal was heart- breaking. We were going home empty handed.
We rolled off the track and down into the pits, trying to fathom what had just happened. I was angry, frustrated, disappointed all in one. Then to see the elation on the faces of the Canadians was really hard to take. I gave Mel a hug and Jos a pat on the back. As hard as it was to take, we had given it everything. There was nothing more we could have done. We had to hold our heads high and be proud of representing Australia and giving it our best shot.
I hopped onto the rollers and started to think about it all… it wasn’t until Amy and Gary came over that I started to well up. After all the time and effort he had put into us and our team pursuit over the years, he deserved more than that, as did Amy and our other teammates who had been there alongside us the whole way. We were riding for so much more than the three individuals out there on the track. It was a shame that we couldn’t have delivered as well as we had hoped to, but, we did give it our best shot.
After a couple of minutes, it was time to pull myself together, congratulate our opposition and face the media. The four of us walked over as a group and expressed our disappointment, yet our satisfaction that we gave it everything. We knew that had we had a second chance, we couldn’t have done any better. I felt so sorry for the girls, because that’s all they had. There were no more chances for them. I, on the other hand, DID have another chance. I was blessed to have the opportunity to ride the Omnium, which was a final chance to take something home for the girls, something that they so deserved.
After a much-needed sleep in and day off, I was able to put the disappointment of the team pursuit behind me and start to focus on day one of the Omnium. The Omnium was to be contested over two days, the 6th and 7th of August, with three events on each day. The first day consisted of the flying lap, points race and elimination.
I headed out to the track, feeling much more comfortable. I knew what to expect. I knew what the track would look like, how it would feel and how it would sound. I knew what I had to do, and boy was I hungry. I was the 5th last rider to head up onto the boards for qualifying. My legs had felt good in the warm up but I had to make sure I nailed my 2.5 lap build up and line from the top of the track down to the bottom to ensure I had as much speed as possible before the timer started. I rode exactly the way my omnium coach, Matt Gilmore and I had discussed and managed to do a personal best time of 14.261, which sat me in 3rd position overall, behind Trott of Great Britain and Clara Sanchez of France.
The points race was up next. I managed to win the first sprint and felt pretty comfortable within the bunch. I covered a few attacks, but when two of the main race contenders, Hammer of USA and Whitten of Canada attacked, I missed the move. I had three options; one; chase after them and be forced to do a lot of work, two; wait for race favourite, Trott to take control, or three; wait and recover in the bunch and allow the two to take a lap. I felt that it was Trott’s role to bring it back together. As the current World Champion, as well as being the current leader in the omnium, I thought she should want to keep it together. Instead, she seemed to be waiting for me, or someone else to make a move and to be honest, I didn’t know what to do. By the time I decided I should chase it was too late and Hammer and Whitten took the lap. I tried to scramble for points during the sprints for the rest of the race but it wasn’t enough and I came 11th. Hammer was now leading on 10 points, with me slotting into 4th on 14 points.
Although extremely frustrated with myself, I only had 37 minutes until I had to be up for the elimination. I’m not sure who designed the Olympic program but it sure was tough work backing up so soon in 28 degree heat. After about 2.5 litres of water and 3 ice-water drenched towels later, I was lining up against the fence for the third race of the omnium.
The elimination was sketchy, as usual. 18 girls squeezing into gaps to ensure they aren’t last across the line like it’s a matter of life or death, is not a great combination. Although there was a crash early on, I felt relatively comfortable for the first half of the race. As the numbers dwindled, the legs started to get heavier and positioning was becoming more crucial than ever. Although caught out in a ‘hairy’ situation with around seven girls to go, I managed to avoid it and was eventually eliminated with 3 to go. I was very happy with this ride. I managed to turn things around after the pointsrace and put myself back into overall contention. That’s the main thing about an omnium. It’s not over until the “fat lady sings”, or in this case, the 6th event has been run.
The next morning was the individual pursuit. There is no hiding in this one. Every rider is exposed out there on the track for three and a half minutes. By the time I arrived at the track, a few of my opposition were already out and racing. The times didn’t seem as fast as they had been at the track world championships in April earlier this year which meant that the track was a little bit heavy. I dropped my gear down a touch and headed out onto the start line.
It’s so strange out there by yourself, locked into the starting gate. The track is bare and extending out in front of you, a timer ticking down slowly to the left and a few muffled yells from the crowd. Something caught my eye, up to the left. It was the big screen, with my face on it, looking above the camera. I quickly looked away from the screen and away from the camera man who was walking across the track in front of me. CONCENTRATE. I looked up the front straight and thought about the countdown. 35 seconds to go. I thought about my breathing and tried to take a few, calm deep breaths. “I know what to do,” I told myself, “Concentrate on the countdown and then get the bike up to speed.”
I was off. The nerves disappeared but the little voice didn’t, talking me through each step of the way. “Get down into the aero bars and settle in”, “that’s a good pace, now hold it.” I stuck to my schedule and rode a 3:35.9. I ended up 4th – the position I had come at the world championships and had hoped to at least achieve (if not better). I was satisfied with that and now had to focus my attention on the scratch race.
As I have discovered in the past, the scratch race can be where your race is won or lost. One bad position could mean 10 points between you and your opposition in one hit. I was sitting in 4th position, on 21 points, equal with Whitten. At previous races, I had beaten Whitten in the final event – the 500m time trial, which gave me hope, but meant that this scratch race would be the deciding factor between us. Trott and Hammer were close on 13 and 14 points respectively, which meant that they would both have to have a bit of a stuff up for me to challenge them for gold. I was realistically fighting for bronze, but as they say, anything can happen, so I wanted to go out there and make sure I got the best result possible.
I followed moves by riders looking to take a lap and kept a firm eye on Tara Whitten. Wherever she went, I would follow and vice-versa. No breaks managed to get away so it was going to come down to a bunch sprint. This meant it was all about positioning. I had the perfect wheel – strong horse Sarah Hammer was on the front with two to go, increasing the pace all the way to the finish line. Trott was on my wheel and I was watching her, making sure she didn’t jump around. She ALMOST did, but I managed to react, JUST in time and managed to squeeze through the gap between her and Hammer to get 1st across the line. I was shocked! “Was that it? Did that just happen? Did I just win the scratch race? Holy crap! COOL!!” My next thought was, “where was Whitten?” I looked up at the scoreboard and saw ‘6th’ beside her name. Yes. That was what we wanted. Part of me started to think about the dais, but I knew I had to snap out of it and concentrate on the 6th and final race. If I couldn’t get out of the gate, or put the wrong gear on, or ate the wrong food, I could completely stuff this up. I had to focus on what we had done all those times in training and all those times in racing. “Focus on the process.”
As I sat in the pits waiting for my start, I looked up into the crowd. Up on the top left were a whole group of Aussies – I could make out some cyclists and BMX’ers. I looked along the front straight and there too, was a row of Aussie shirts, this time the swimmers including Stephanie Rice. Seeing that handful of fellow Aussie athletes out there to support us, to support me was so uplifting. I was there, representing them and the rest of Australia. To see them cheering Perko on in the sprint and Anna in the Keirin gave me such a great deal of pride. I remember when Steve Hooker won gold in the pole-vault in Beijing 2008. After his winning jump he ran to the stands to the entire Australian athletics team who were screaming and jumping with excitement. I remember thinking just how cool it was that your teammates could become so involved in what you were doing. I will never forget the moment I raced that final race on the final night of track cycling competition, in front of my Australian teammates, my family, my friends and my country.
I posted a personal best time of 35.140 seconds for my 500m time trial, coming second to Laura Trott by .030 of a second. This brought my tally of points to 24 which was good enough to take home a Bronze medal. Laura Trott stood on the top of the podium with 18 points and USA’s Sarah Hammer in 2nd on 19 points. Yes, I did go to the Olympics to get gold, but coming 4th in the Team Pursuit earlier that week made me realise just how special a medal really is. I have never felt more proud in my life than I did standing on that podium watching an Australian flag rise, for me. My breathing was so fast and you could not wipe the smile from my face. I won’t forget that moment for the rest of my life.
After the medal ceremony I was quickly chaperoned to the media room where I sat on a panel alongside Sarah Hammer. After a few questions I headed back down into the centre where I was told of the great news of Anna’s Gold medal ride. I was ecstatic. How nice for the Australian Track team to finally get that gold medal and finish on a high.
I headed up across the track and met my mum, dad, brothers Chris and Alex, boyfriend Michael and coach Tim Decker. How special to have been able to have them all there to see me race. I didn’t have long before I had to head to drug testing and then a media flurry, being driven and escorted from public questioning seminars to the studios for TV and radio interviews until the early hours of the morning.
The rest of the week consisted of late nights of celebrations and watching the final sports finish off their competition. I managed to get tickets to see the Australian women win bronze in the waterpolo and basketball finals and Sam Willoughby win Silver in the BMX. It was so nice to be able to see and feel just how different the vibe at other Olympic sports and stadiums were. Although we didn’t get tickets to the athletics, we watched Bolt sprint to his second Gold of the games from outside the stadium in amongst thousands of sport fanatics upon the hill, which too was a very special experience.
The closing ceremony was great. It was great to have all the Aussie athletes together, dressed in the same clothes at the same time. I met so many new people who I still keep in touch with today. I could not believe just how big the athletics stadium was and just how many people were there. I can still hear the sound of that enormous crowd as we walked out. Unfortunately the music was a little distorted from where we were standing but when the Spice Girls came out, Amy and I squeezed as far forward as we could and it was brilliant. Boy did the Brits put on a great display! When the light in the torch finally dimmed, it was the most peculiar feeling. Part of me felt this immense sadness, for all of this excitement had come to an end, but the other feeling was relief. It had been such a long, tiring journey to make it to the games and even though we may not have achieved what we had set out to, we each knew that we had given it our all and couldn’t have done any better. It was such a special, crazy part of my life that I will never, ever forget and I really must thank my beautiful friends and family for always, always being there for me and supporting me along every step of the way.
And I guess the good thing about bronze and 4th is that there is always room for improvement..! 😛
Bring on the next 4 years!