16 August 2012 | Race Reports
2012 London Olympics: Race Report
After the World Cup in Val D’Isere, the US Olympic Mountain bike team headed to Kirchzarten, Germany to train for a week before heading to London. Hats off to US Mountain Bike Team Coach Marc Gullickson for planning and executing a great training camp. We stayed in a little farmhouse right outside of the town of Kirchzarten which is a 20 minute bike ride from the city of Freiburg. Kirchzarten was a great place to stage- the road riding is amazing, and apparently there are lots of good MTB trails too. We had a really fun group: Marc, Tom Neb (team mechanic), Julia Grobert (PT and massage therapist), Sam Shultz, Todd Wells, me, Dusty, Lea Davison and Joanna Petterson. We’d split up for our training in the morning, then come together in the afternoon to barbeque and watch the Olympics on German TV (we took care of the commentary). It was a very low-key, low-stress week which was just what we all needed in the run-up to the biggest race in 4 years. A week went by very fast, and before I knew it we were on a plane to London.
We arrived on Monday, picked up our credentials and headed to the Athlete Village to spend one night before transferring out to a hotel that was closer to the venue. Walking into the Athlete Village is when it’s finally real. There you are, walking around in your Team USA clothing and seeing all the other athletes in their National team gear- it’s like you are back in college only a million times cooler. It’s huge. It’s overwhelming. It’s SO COOL!
We arrived late, so we dropped our bags in our rooms and headed to the dining hall for a quick dinner. Well, it’s hard to be quick about it when the dining hall is the size of a super Walmart. So, what do you want for dinner? Steak and potatoes? Lentil curry? Salad? Soup? Cereal? Pad thai? Red beans and rice? Grilled chicken? Cake? Cheese? Bread? Sushi? Fruit? Yogurt? Pizza? A handful of nuts? Chocolate chip cookies? McDonald’s (no joke- the McDonald’s ALWAYS has the longest line)? You see where I’m going with this…. I think Lea said it best when she said she sat down for breakfast with orange juice, lentils and a pear on her tray.
After dinner we headed to our rooms to go through our new Olympic gear (courtesy of Nike and Ralph Lauren) and grab a few things to take with us when we transferred to the hotel. Lea and I were like two kids on Christmas- going through the bags of gear and trying everything on. I think at one point Lea had on two different shoes, a sweatshirt, a jacket and some sunglasses.
It had been a long day of traveling, and I knew I was exhausted, but I was so amped up that I just lay there wide awake. And all of a sudden I was nervous. REALLY nervous. I was getting butterflies- I was going to race in the Olympics. As I lay there I could hear the whoops and celebrations of athletes who had already finished their events and were celebrating victories. A million thoughts raced through my head. I was excited. I was anxious. Finally I broke down and took a sleeping pill at 1:30am.
The next day we headed out for the first day of training on the course. I knew what to expect- I had taken advantage of every available opportunity to ride and/or race on the course, so there weren’t any surprises. I did a couple laps, spent a little time checking out lines on one of the longer technical sections, and then headed to the hotel to get some rest.
Staying at the hotel was the right move for me. As soon as I settled in it was (almost) like I was at any other big race. It was a little easier to block out the fact that we were at THE OLYMPICS. I tried to just stick to my usual routine, even though “THE OLYMPICS!” would creep into my head every now and then. I did a few more days of training on the course, but I was feeling slow in a few of the downhill sections, and it was hard not to stress out about it. I wanted to dial in every line, every corner, everything. There was one jump that I wasn’t comfortable jumping, and I stressed about losing time there, especially after watching some women ride it fast and smooth. I have never worried so much about such small sections on a race course before, but it’s the Olympics, and you want to give yourself every opportunity for success, so you analyze and nit-pick everything.
When race day finally rolled around, I was ready. At least, I hoped I was ready. Before the race, there is plenty to worry about- How do your legs feel right now? How about now? How about now? Are you stressed? How are you sleeping? Are you hydrated? How do your legs feel now? A little tired? Should you have worn compression socks? Did you eat the right thing for dinner? For breakfast? How do your legs feel now? Now? Ok so that gives you a little peek into my pre-race neurosis….
The Olympics (and other big races) are such a big deal that you want to make sure you do EVERYTHING right, you feel like you should maybe change some things to give yourself that little extra advantage. But once you are in the race none of that matters; at that point you just have to do the best you can with what you’ve got on the day.
We arrived at the venue about 2 hours before our race which meant that I had some sitting around to do before starting my warm-up. There were already tons of spectators pouring in and taking up the choice spots near the rock features and switchback climbs. Time was passing slowly and too quickly all at once. I was sitting around, sitting around, and all of a sudden it was time to go to the start.
I was called to the start line on the second row, and I took an open spot on the right side (the course started into a sweeping lefthand turn). As soon as I lined up I started second guessing my choice. I thought about moving to the left side, but I didn’t.
The gun went off and the crowd ROARED. The start was fast and the right side was NOT. Everyone was amped up and riding like crazy, and I narrowly avoided some craziness during the 1 minute start loop. We headed into the first rock drop where women were lined up for all 3 of the line options, and a course marshall was holding up a yellow flag signaling that there had been a crash. I saw an opening on the A-line, and dropped into it, just missing the woman who had crashed and was picking up her bike. It was mayhem. We hit the next technical spot and things balled up again as women lined up to ride over the rock slowly in single file. I was back in the twenties, and my hopes faded as I watched the pack in front of me string out to go through the technical sections.
I was so frustrated- I knew the front of the race was going, and I could feel my chances of a great result slipping away. I bided my time, tried not to panic and moved up where I could on the climbs. Soon I was able to see the lead group, and it seemed to be staying together- maybe if I could get up there I’d still have a chance. The crowds were incredible- it seemed like everyone was cheering me on, and I knew there were lots of other people all over the world watching on TV and cheering me on too. I dug deeper. Eventually I made contact with the lead group which had been whittled down to Sabine and Julie. I was riding third wheel, and I was feeling good. I figured I had a little time to sit in and recover before things got REALLY fast. Then, on one of the rocky downhills, Sabine went over the bars right in front of me. I had to unclip, and I hesitated- there was nowhere to ride around her, and it was clear she wasn’t going to let me by. We both ran down the rocks and jumped back on our bikes, but that mistake was just what Julie needed to get away. Sabine and I battled back and forth a couple of times, and I felt like I was stronger on the climbs, but as we got closer to the finish I started to think that I might actually have a shot at a medal. Irina was not far behind- I could see her on the switchbacks- and I knew I had no room for error.
The last 2 laps I went into damage-control mode. After my races at Windham and Mount Ste Anne, I knew that anything can happen, anytime, anywhere; that you aren’t safe until you literally cross the finish line. Those last two laps I was a mess.
Something’s going to happen.
Something’s going to happen.
SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN
It could happen here.
I took zero risks. I focused on climbing hard and being safe (and thus a little slower) on the downhills. And then, I was there- within sight of the finish. I was going to win a bronze medal! I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I won the race. It was surreal. I knew it was possible, but to have everything come together that day was amazing. Just being able to race in the Olympics is such an honor, I can’t even describe how it feels to bring home a medal for your country (even if it is only a bronze!).
So many people helped me get this far. I was lucky enough to have a big chunk of family at the race (my husband Dusty, all 4 of my brothers, my parents, my grandmother, an aunt, uncle and cousins) my coach Ben and his wife Megan, my team manager Waldek and team mechanic Chris, and my teammates (not just my fellow team USA member Lea, but also my Luna teammates). And then there are all those who couldn’t be there in person but were cheering and wishing me well from afar. So many people have had a hand in my success, and I hope they all feel a touch of what I am feeling right now. I am so grateful to be surrounded by such supportive and positive people, and I thank everyone who sent me emails, twitter messages, facebook messages, pictures of their kids holding home-made signs and banners.
So THANK YOU.
All of you!
Now I am back at home for a little rest and some more training before I travel back to Europe for the World Championships. And yeah, you could say I’m a little motivated…