It’s been 33 days since I stepped off my bike at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Shortly after I walked off the track, I burst into tears on national television. This time, it wasn’t the right sort. I wasn’t prepared for this. When dreaming of Rio, I never set my sights on anything other than the podium, for both my events. It wasn’t, ‘will I get a medal,’ but rather, ‘which colour will it be’. I truly believed we were in the hunt for gold in the Team Pursuit, and PB’s the week before across every training exercise only boosted that belief.
I could never have imagined what lay ahead.
We train up to four times a week on the track, practising being inches from the wheel in front. I have trained and raced for five years with these girls, without incident. There have been two or three close calls, but never an issue, until now, just three days out from the biggest event of our lives. I say this was the biggest, because for me, London was a stepping stone. I had been in the Australian Institute of Sport for a mere six or seven months before the London Olympics, racing at my first World Championships just four months before. I was the new kid on the block, with the world at my feet. At the time, it was the biggest event of my life, but Rio was bigger. I have never felt more prepared for an event, than I did for Rio, 2016.
‘Prepared’ means not just physically, but mentally and technically. We had multiple sessions with our team psychologist, imagining scenarios and discussing the possibility of the unexpected. The idea of crashing came up, but not once did we ever, truly believe it would happen.
Unfortunately, the universe dealt us some tricky cards, and that’s the simplicity of it. We made a mistake as a team, and paid for it, with four or five riders horizontally sprawled out across the track, halfway through one of our final race-pace efforts. Mel had to get checked out at hospital, returning with crutches and a severe haematoma to her hip, Ash did her AC joint in her shoulder and Amy and Georgia suffered haematomas to their hips and arms. We were lucky that no-one was seriously injured. It could have been a lot worse.
The Games were not over; there was still a race to be run. We didn’t know how much the crash would impact us, and wouldn’t know till race day. We changed training the following day in order to get back to the track and test out our mended bikes, but other than that, we continued as if nothing had happened. We could still be in the mix!
Race day came and we qualified 3rd fastest. We were stoked. It was a real uncertainty lining up that day, we didn’t know what to expect. Some of the girls were affected more than others, some unable to do their normal amount of ‘work’ for the team- which was to be expected. We compensated, swapping roles and lengths of turns, and were very happy to still be in the medal hunt.
Two days later and things took a turn for the worse. We couldn’t get it right this time, finishing outside of the top four. This was devastating. The realisation that you are out of the medal hunt, after all these years of hard work, is soul crushing. We returned to the village, sat in the main room and cried; there’s only so much time that you can suppress the nerves and stress of a situation before it all needs to come out. We came together as a team and acknowledged everything we’d been through. We accepted where we were at, hugged it out, and came back out to the track to finish it off. Ash swapped in for Mel for the final ride. This gave everyone the opportunity to compete at an Olympic Games. That was special in itself – after riding the entire journey with your teammates, to see that part of a dream achieved amongst all the disappointment was really beautiful and did put things into perspective.
Next came the Omnium. My legs were great in the Team Pursuit; I hadn’t felt that good at a race for a long time, so I was certainly excited to rip into the Omnium. The scratch race, individual pursuit and elimination were fine. Nothing brilliant, but still in the mix. Then came my best events, the 500m time trial and flying lap. A first and second place saw me bump up into fourth, a few points off second place. This was ok. It wasn’t the best situation leading into the final event, but it was doable.
I went out with a plan. I was to follow 1st, 2nd and 3rd, taking them on in the sprints, and make sure 5th and 6th didn’t get away.
My first sprint didn’t go to plan. I led out early and 1, 2 and 3 came straight past. This wasn’t a good sign. Another sprint later and I wasn’t able to do much either. All of a sudden, 5 and 6 broke away and took a lap, and there was nothing I could do about it. I saw them go, but my legs had nothing. Repeat for the next eighty laps and you have my final event of the Omnium. In a nutshell, my legs disappeared at the most important time of my life, and that was all there was to it.
I don’t think I could have done better if I had another shot. Obviously hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if your legs aren’t there, hindsight isn’t going to help. The good thing was, it wasn’t a tactical error that stole my medal hopes, which would have been a lot harder to deal with. Put simply, it was a lack in physical ability against my opposition.
I’ve spent a good while thinking about why and what happened. Was it the lead up? Was it the extra turns in the team pursuit? Was it my recovery between events?
Six weeks out from the Games, I came down with a nasty virus. I had eleven days off the bike, forcing me to alter my training. My pointsrace training made way for the team pursuit, as that was the priority (due to lack of variables.. (or so we thought!)) I feel this definitely played a role in my lack of repeatability and endurance, despite feeling great in the team pursuit.
The hardest thing about all this is not knowing just what we would have done in the team pursuit had it all been smooth sailing. GB and USA were on some mighty form, and deserve the medals and records they broke. We were also doing PB’s, so it certainly would have been exciting and we would have loved to have given them a challenge. At the end of the day, the best team won. Riding isn’t just about being fast, it’s about technique too. Not only were they fast, but they kept their bikes upright, completing the package.
I’ve taken some time to deal with the disappointment due to the craziness and business of Rio. After the Omnium, all I wanted to do was lock myself in my room and cry all night, but thankfully the girls got me to come out and I was able to forget everything for a few days. I was able to let go and celebrate a journey with a fabulous, supportive team. Unfortunately, most of the Aussie cyclists were disappointed with their results, but we were always there for each other. I am very thankful to have such a wonderful, close-knit team, who really helped me deal with the disappointment, even without them realising. Their positivity and grounding really helped me let go for a while and be thankful for what we had achieved as a team. Whilst we weren’t able to celebrate as many results as we had hoped, we were certainly able to celebrate the journey.
Everything in track cycling revolves around the Olympics, so when you ‘fail’, a part of you feels like you’ve wasted the last four years of your life. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and think about why you started this sport in the first place, focussing on the smaller experiences that paved the path to where you are today.
In four years I’ve competed at a range of events, from short criteriums in tiny Dutch towns, to Track and Road World Championships in Belarus, Italy, Colombia, Spain, France and London. I’ve travelled, lived, trained and raced in more countries than I can remember, meeting some of the most fantastic people along the way. I’ve experienced great highs, whilst also been put in situations where I’ve been forced to grow, well beyond my years.
Even on a day to day basis I’m able to do what I love; get out on my bike with a good group of friends, or head off in any direction, exploring the countryside. My ‘job’ means staying fit and healthy, often getting the freedom to choose where and what I want to do. I am also very lucky to be able to share this journey with my brother Alex, who returned from Rio with an Olympic silver medal. This was a really special moment for our family, after his disappointment missing out on a ride in London, 2012.
So, after all the questioning, tears and soul-searching, it really comes down to one simple question:
If I had my time over, would I do it all again?The answer is yes, in a heartbeat.