(Los Angeles, CA – via teleconference) – The newly re-branded Cycling Canada Cyclisme announced the 2012 Olympic Track Team on Friday. The seven-rider team is more than double the three athletes that Canada sent to the Beijing 2008 Games, with just one – the Yukon’s Zach Bell – being a former Olympian. (click here for the announcement).
Not surprising Bell and Tara Whitten both received nominations to compete in the Omnium, which will see its Olympic debut in London. Bell has two silver medals at the World Championships in the Omnium, while Whitten has won three World titles in recent years. Together the two form the backbone of Canada’s Olympic medal aspirations in London.
Bell took the time to call in from the Tour de Beauce where he is currently racing with his professional road team SpiderTech. He talked of the growth of the program since the last Olympiad and of the key support he’s received from the Yukon over the years, a province in which he was first introduced to sport and with which he still maintains strong roots. When asked if he would have any advice to give as the only veteran Olympian on the team he responded that he tells other riders is that, “…what got you there is what will do the job for you. There’s pressure when you get to the Olympics that you need to do something special, and that can be self-defeating. Who you are and the talent you have that got you here is what will serve you best.” He also spoke of the power of the Games to lift riders up and how in Beijing he thrived in his underdog role to finish a surprising 7th place.
For Whitten, she is hoping that lessons learned from coming 4th in the Omnium at the recent Track Worlds, where she was the defending champion, will help her in London. “It made me take the time to fix those weaknesses and think about how to get back on top. I would have loved to have won there, but I learned a lot and it probably motivated me more than if the outcome had been better,” said Whitten.
Whitten will join relative newcomers Jasmine Glaesser and Gillian Carleton as the core of the Women’s Team Pursuit squad, two riders that Tanya Dubnicoff described as having the sort of “…raw talent that couldn’t be ignored.” Laura Brown, a member of Canada’s inaugural women’s World Cup Team Pursuit squad, was named as the alternate.
Glaesser spoke of the relief in managing to get her Canadian citizenship in time (though she grew up in Canada, Glaesser was born in Germany, and her parents have maintained their citizenship there). She focused on the track this season as the possibility of competing at the Olympics was too great an opportunity to pass up. However her recent breakout results at the Exergy Tour in Idaho may see the young Vancouverite focusing more of her attention on the road after the Games.
Carleton, who Whooles described as a huge talent that finally found an avenue on the track, faced a rocky road to making the team. Having been involved with the sport for a number of years (she is the current Canada Games road race champion) Carleton decided to focus more on the track last year attending the national championships in the fall.
What followed was a meteoric rise that came latterly crashing down when she broke her pelvis at the World Cup in Astana, Kazakstan. Carleton credited the excellent integrated support she received from the national team in how she was able to be back on her bike within six weeks. She hardly seemed to miss a beat from that point on, joining Whitten and Glaesser in storming medal performances at the World Championships and the test event at London round of the World Cup.
While Glaesser and Carelton may be new to track racing, Monique Sullivan manages to be both young and a veteran of the sport. Sullivan described how she was lucky to find track cycling as a 12-year-old through a kids program, and how otherwise she likely never would have thought she was good at sports.
As Canada’s sole international female sprinter, Sullivan faced a long and stress-filled uphill battle to qualify for these Games, but feels that her victories at the Pan-American Championships at the end of the season were signs that she is reaching another level in her racing, thus changing her perspective on what she believes she can accomplish.
The biggest surprise of the announcement was Ontario’s Joe Veloce earning the nod as Canada’s Keirin rider over long-time standout Travis Smith. Veloce was unable to make the teleconference as he was graduating from McMaster University with a degree in electrical engineering. To say it was a momentous day for Veloce would be an understatement.
Head Coach Richard Wooles commented that from the outside looking in, it might have seemed that Smith, a two-time Commonwealth Games medalist, was the favourite to be Canada’s lone representative in the sprint events. However, the situation was less clear cut for those inside the LA training environment, evidence that it was one of the tough decisions that is always part of selections. Wooles contended that Veloce’s selection was a clear-cut decision based on an impartial analysis of results at the trials. It should be noted that while Smith has been far and away the dominant Canadian sprinter of the last decade, Veloce is in fact the current Canadian Keirin champion.