Olympics can be magic

Olympics can be magic; they can be heartbreak.  I have had both.

This just happened!
I have learned a lot from each year of racing mountain bikes, but the heartbreak of underperforming in London at the Olympics probably taught me the most. It taught me how to be true to myself as an athlete and how to find the right ingredients I needed to perform.

Preparing for the games in 2012 I let the seriousness of trying to win a medal, and consequently coming up short, steal the joy away from what I was doing. I had to be perfect and anything less wasn’t enough.  That unforgiving mindset gives you no room to come back from adversity or to value a great performance that may be shy of Gold, Silver or Bronze. It means a solid performance can quickly derail into a poor one.

I always perform best when I am smiling and embracing the challenge of racing and after London it took a year to find that joy again and another year to turn that into success with a World Championship win.

Going into my third Olympic Games in Rio I was determined to remember that performing on the highest stage IS fun!  It is an opportunity to give your best and see what you can do. I was determined to embrace the magic of the games despite knowing that some people would think I wasn’t focused.  That focused athletes should only be recovering in their rooms when not out training.  But that is not how I perform. I was determined to vocalize and commit to “having the best performance” I could have rather than stating “I was going to Rio to medal and that anything else would be a disappointment”, because THAT is the attitude where I find my best. I was determined to put out a race I could ride away from with my head held high even if there was no medal draped around my neck.

Despite being a much more dominant racer headed into the 2012 Games in London, I went into the 2016 Games in Rio a much more confident, relaxed and happy athlete.  When I went down in a crash on the start loop before even entering the first full lap I couldn’t believe it.  I headed into the first climb 25th out of 30 women.  But if you know me you know that coming back from poor starts has become a necessarily skill.  I knew in Beijing in 2008 I was in the 20’s off the start and rode to 4th, 9seconds off Bronze.  I knew it was possible.

When my shifting stopped working halfway through the lap though I started to get demoralized.  I climbed flag mountain hoping the camera wasn’t on me so that people wouldn’t see me lugging this massive gear and wondering why I was riding so poorly. I caught a group of 4 women but had no ability to accelerate past them.  When I reached the tech zone my team Canada mechanic, Adam trotter, quickly got the jammed shifter moving again, but I was now over 1-minute back.  I couldn’t believe this was my Olympics.  I was so ready and it was coming down to bad Luck. 

Giving up never occurred to me.  I just had a harder job.  I thought back to the World Cup in La Bresse where I had brought back a 1.40 gap.  I could do this.  I have never been so grateful a course had no trees!  When I cleared traffic and got to Flag mountain the following lap I could actually see the leaders.  Sure they were far ahead, but not that far.  Getting there was possible and my coach Dan was there with the necessary time splits to remind me it really was possible. 

I know how my body feels when I’m riding well, how my legs need to drive, where my eyes need to look.  I knew I couldn’t play around with tactics, that if I wanted to get to the front I had to drive the pace and make it happen.  I had played out in my mind every single scenario that could have played out in this race.  This was not the scenario I wanted, but I knew, in my mind at least, I had come through this and gotten to the front.  Every lap the front became more and more possible.

With two laps to go, a highlight was riding with both my Luna teammate Katerina Nash and my Canadian Teammate Emily Batty in 3rd, 4th and 5th. At least one of us would have a great day! I kept driving the pace and was able to open a gap and keep growing it into the final lap. 
Leading Emily and Katerina into the staircase on lap 4. The girls went on to claim their career bests in 4th and 5th
Then 200m from the finish the unthinkable happened.  I crashed.  It was 100% my fault.  I entered a jump too fast or too tired and all of a sudden I was getting sideways in the air and came down hard.  I can’t even verbalize the intensity of that moment, the thousand thoughts spiraling through my head as I realized I may have just crashed myself out of an Olympic medal.  I ran and hopped back on my bike with no momentum for the next rock garden.  As I turned into the finish stadium I looked back and saw Emily chasing me down.  I poured everything I had into that moment and as I seized up coming through the last corner into the finish line I had to find more.  After being 25 seconds ahead I was only 2 at the finish line, just enough the raise an arm and savour the moment of earning an Olympic medal.

I LOVE my Bronze. To me it is Gold. I got everything I wanted out of that performance.  It was far from perfect, but it was magic.  I rode the race of my life and got exactly out of my performance what I wanted most, a ride that I could be proud of.

Thank you to everyone that made this possible even in the smallest way. I know I will have missed people but please know you are all appreciated!

Coach: Dan Proulx
Husband: Keith Wilson
Mum, Dad, Geoff, Sues, Grainger, Sandra, Jeanine, Bruce, Trent
Luna Staff : Waldek Stepnioski, Dave Mc:Laughlin, Chris Mathis, Dusty Labarr, Julien Brugeas
Team Canada Staff  Adam Trotter, Tara Lazarski, Jen Mahone, Kris Westwood, Jacques Landry,
Team Canada riders for the awesome team environment and laps: Emily Batty, Leandre Bouchard, Raphael Gagne, Mike Garrigan
Sport Psych: Sharleen Hoar, Kirsten Barnes
Sponsors: Luna, ClifBar, Orbea, Shimano, Fox, Maxxis, PrAna, SockGuy, Capo, Giro, Oakley, Ceetech, Garmin, Pedros, Victory circle graphics, Genuine Innovations, Inno, Petal Power
Kamloops, BC and Harvey/Fredericton, NB
Coach Dan Proulx
Keith, keeping me down to earth for 14 years
Dream Team 2016
Some hugs are simply the best

Thank you!!!!


Unknown said…
As a Rio 2016 volunteer from the UK at MTB, road race and TT, Team Canada helped make my games a unforgettable experience. Thanks and well done!
Kika said…
Hey Fiona, the team will be happy to hear this. Thanks for volunteering. What an experience!
Mo Handford said…
Catharine, as my daughter (Emily Handford) starts to chart her own path in high performance MTB I am sooooo happy she is fortunate enough to live in Canada and have someone as incredible as you for a role model. You are the most inspirational, generous, gracious racer I have ever met. Don't ever stop doing what you are doing!! Thank you!!!!!!
Unknown said…
Salut Catharine !

Bravo, congrats, to be. To exist. To share. That is enough. The medal is a passport, but you didn't it to shine.
Sonya said…
Such a great read and super inspiring!! I enjoyed following along the journey and couldn't be happier for you!!!
Unknown said…
It has been an honour covering your Olympic experiences for CBC - how exciting to watch you medal!!
Unknown said…
It's been an honour covering your Olympic experiences for CBC over the years. What a thrill it was seeing you medal for Team Canada!