On the road, many races are more important than the Olympics--but track is different, right?
This is the one time when everyone else gets to see us as athletes, and to see our sport in general. If you win, you get to say "I won an Olympic gold," for the rest of your life, and everyone understands that even if they don't know anything about track cycling.
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What can people unfamiliar with the track expect to see?
The events are a lot shorter and much more intense, the speed is so much faster than other cycling disciplines, and it can be a lot more aggressive. In one of the best events, the elimination, on every other lap the last person to cross the line gets eliminated. People put their wheels just about anywhere possible to not get eliminated. It's just a mad dash. (Search: Olympic Cycling)
You were world champion in '06 and '07, and a favorite in Beijing but ended up fifth. What happened?
The individual pursuit is a high-pressure event, and it just didn't go well. We all have those times; unfortunately mine came at the biggest event. But that loss shaped me mentally on what it takes to succeed at that level.
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You're a four-time world champion and the world-record holder in the individual pursuit, but that event was removed as a stand-alone event. How have you handled the transition to racing the omnium, cycling's version of a decathlon?
You have to focus completely. You can win or lose it all in one race, and that happens six times during the competition. It's intense. And the training is demanding. One day it was all-out sprints and I was pulling muscles in my neck. The next day, I was doing a long road ride at tempo.
Have you changed anything else?
This time, one goal is to enjoy it, soak in it. What's going to matter when I'm 70 is being able to tell my grandkids what the Olympics were like. If you can't remember because you were stressed, that's no good. And having fun is a good recipe for going fast.
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How did you get your start racing bikes?
My dad raced masters on the road, so I would always see him going out for rides, then we started riding together, and that evolved into me getting a race bike when I was about eight. I did my first race at 10. We moved to the San Diego area, and one day he asked if I wanted to go check out the velodrome. When a kid hears "no brakes" and "you can't stop pedaling" and "you're on a banked surface," that's really attractive. It was an instant click.
You had a lot of success early, then in 2003 you quit. Why?
I'd raced all through my junior years, then started in the senior ranks, but I was just out of high school and I wanted to see what else was out there. I stopped riding. I got a normal job, working in a bagel shop--but pretty quickly realized I hadn't had it so bad as a bike racer. I needed to step away from it to know how much I really loved it.
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And watching the 2004 Olympics on TV also affected you?
The big moment was seeing Sarah Ulmer break the world record in the individual pursuit. She was someone I had raced against. I'd just turned 21, so I was still so young. I turned to my boyfriend, who is now my husband and coach, and I said, "I want to do this." The next day he wrote out a plan and I started training again.
Is the story true that when you thought you were never coming back, you sold all your gear on eBay?
Yeah, I got rid of everything, except a mountain bike I used to get back and forth to work on. That was the only bike I rode for about six months.