My 'little' brother Tim (who lives in Cape Town with his wife Jade) has been pestering me for weeks to give a detailed report of my race so here goes. (warning: it is long so feel free to skim read!)
I have been feeling pretty low over the last few weeks, mentally and physically, so had a bit of a time-out from social media. I only read all the post-Olympic tweet messages yesterday and was amazed by all the positive support! Thanks! A special thanks to my family, my supportive husband Tijl, my brother Paul & Mary who took care of me during my recovery break, Aunt Cinders in Cape Town who is always writing me encouraging messages, then also to great supportive teammates Ash & Robyn as well as Roy & Kim Gershow. I am feeling much better now and motivated again to put all my energy and focus into a good end of the season leading up to Worlds end of September!
The official slogan for the 2012 Olympics was "Inspire a Generation". And I hope that I was able to inspire some of you off the couch and into some action, physically and also mentally to have the belief & determination to reach for your dreams even if it means some sacrifices and hard work along the way! Meeting some of the other Olympic athletes and reading some of their stories on their journey to the Games certainly inspired me!
The Olympic games came with huge highs and lows for me. I went into the games hugely motivated, excited, living my dream, honoured to be representing my country, believing that we could pull off something special as a team. The first week, the Olympic village was buzzing with excitement and positive energy. It was an amazing experience to be living in this contained world of highly motivated and inspired top athletes from around the world.
Unfortunately there are only 3 medals and in most cases people will only remember the gold medal. All or nothing and we got to witness moments of extreme heroism and heartache that leaves some athletes crushed and others crying with extreme joy. But that is the spirit of the games. We go out giving it our all with a countries hope behind us and it is this battle that the enthusiastic crowds lining the roads cheering with such vigour or those glued to the TV screen come to watch.
So what was my story of the race? The start was a bit surreal for me. The big day had finally arrived and there were more spectators then I had ever imagined! The support was deafening as we made our warm-up lap past Buckingham Palace. Tijl, my Belgian husband, and his family (including his 88yr old gran) were supporting South Africa today, cheering us on with a big SA flag & vuvuzela's, my brother, Paul and family were further up the road at Hampton Court.
My job was to cover the initial attacks where 3 of the top 5 nations were represented. Robyn was to play a protective role helping Ash but we could swop roles as the race went. The plan started off well. The group stayed more or less intact as the crowds seemed to push us along with deafening cheers and banging of the side barriers. Even the rain that started bucketing down with thunder and lightning didn't deter the crowds! The bunch was nervous as everyone fought for the tight narrowing corner leading up to the first sharp climb. Ash was in front but unfortunately a girl dropped her chain changing gears and Robyn was caught in the crash & I reacted too quickly uncleating then had to start again on the climb chasing back to the now strung out bunch. In my effort to get to the front again before the decent, I saw a gap on the side and made a dash for it at speed not realising a Brazilian girl had the same idea and that I was by far the smaller opponent. I had a wet, gravelly landing but jumped back on my bike again as I saw the bunch disappearing without me only to realise my chain had come off and I had to get off again to get it back on.
At this stage I was all alone, no bunch or cars and all my Olympic dreams and hopes disappearing before my eyes. But I had promised myself that I would not give up so started out again into the rain and misty decent. Team cars started passing me but the jury hadn't seen my crash and thought I'd been dropped on the climb so wouldn't let me get any help. Luckily two Swedish girls joined in the chase along the way. I had to use the drags to chase because I couldn't pedal fast enough on the flats and downhills to even keep up with the Swedish girls with my compact cranks. We managed to catch the bunch just before Box Hill so didn't have much time to move up or recover. I was just praying that Ash was still safely in front because I couldn't see anything through all the rain!
Being at the back is often harder because our group came to a standstill around the 1st hair-pin bend in a jojo effect while we watched the front of the bunch launch a series of attacks after the corner. By the time I cleared the corner, I sprinted with a now-or-never effort to catch onto the back of the front split which I believe was being driven by the 39 year old Canadian and 6-times Olympic medallist, Clara Hughes. I tried to grab a water bottle at the top but we were going at such a speed I missed it and as I looked back to see why no one was coming past me I was surprised to see that no one was behind me and the group I was attached to was so strung out I couldn't see the front! I put in a big effort to latch onto the back again, trying not to panic, I needed to move up!
By the top of the second lap I had moved onto Ash's wheel near the front of the remaining bunch. She was riding such an amazing and inspirational race up front and staying calm despite not knowing what had happened to her teammates! I saw Olga from Russia taking a headstart on the decent for the last little kicker of the day but having no gears for the decent, we let her go. Marianna Vos, who is one of the most experienced and cleverest riders (she has been racing since the age of 6!), took the opportunity though, along with some girls who had been closely marking her, to jump across. The hill was short and Emma Johansson from Sweden and Evelyn Stevens from USA passed us to close the gap so we didn't worry until after the decent when we noticed they had managed to slip off the front again! I had lost quite a few places on the wet decent being nervous after my crash. The rain was stinging on my open leg wound. There was confusion in the bunch as a haphazard chase began into a thunderstorm of hail and heavy rain.
Once again I set about making my way to the front (By the way, it's easier if you just stay at the front!:)). The rain made me feel like I was starting every hard effort with cold numb legs. Still the crowds cheered us on through the storm! Not all the top nations were represented in the front break of four and with still 40km to go I thought the break would come back. Trying to join the pace line was frustrating because the nations that were represented in the break made every attempt to block the way and it seemed the only girls that were being successful were those that were pushing their way aggressively into position or those that were strong enough to ride around them in the wind to the front. Germany and later USA were the main chasers being the stronger nations and it seemed that they were controlling the gap, letting Vos tire herself out in front. Maybe this would have been the case but some attacking in Richmond area interrupted the chase. The next part was a bit of a blur, I covered an attack or two coming into the finish. The bunch had slowed right down and I couldn't believe the race for the medals was over! I helped Ash to the front but then the bunch picked up such speed coming into the finish, I found myself spinning out of gears again and I could only hang on spinning like crazy to the finish with the crowds going wild with cheers.
Then we had to walk through a line of media back to our tent witnessing some girls crying with disappointment and others of happiness. A media guy pushed a microphone in my face and asked why I wasn't in front on box hill to help Ash more. I was shaking uncontrollably from the cold and was taken straight to the medic tent to address my open wounds which were still bleeding & throbbing.
So many dreams and expectations over in what felt like a blink of an eye! So much work, preparation, planning, sacrifices, build-up and hopes. So many emotions. But that is the experience of the Olympics. So we become stronger and more experienced as a Nation. A few more years of hard-work, dedication, encouragement & support and I believe that a medal is beckoning at future Olympics! Thanks to everyone who has supported us and believed in our dreams with us. Great things are still to come.