By Sue George
Georgia Gould is just three weeks away from her first Olympic race. She is one of two women who will race in the stars and stripes representing the United States mountain bike team in Beijing, China, and just last weekend, she raced in her Luna MTB Women's team colors to her best-ever World Cup finish (fourth) at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec, Canada.
"The racing is really open this year. I think there are two large handfuls of people who could have a really good day and be on the podium at the Olympics," said the 28 year-old Gould, who resides in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Of the six World Cups raced thus far in 2008, only one woman, Canadian Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain) has won more than one round. Premont took victory in Fort William, Scotland, and on home turf in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec. The other winners were Chinese Ren Chengyuan in Houffalize, Russian Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) in Offenburg, Norwegian Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) in Madrid, and Spaniard and world champion Marga Fullana (Massi) in Andorra.
The diverse winner's list in due, in part, to a field of top women who are evenly matched competitors. In addition, not every one of the favourites has attended every World Cup round - due to various illnesses and specific approaches to preparing for the Olympics, the top women have been taking turns sitting out rounds.
"A lot of people have been skipping some races leading up to the Olympics," said Gould. "It's left the door open to more racers to do well." Gould has been one of those beneficiaries - she finished third at the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup, a race where current World Champion Fullana, Sabine Spitz and Irina Kalentieva were absent. That's not to say Gould may not have done just as well with everyone there; her previous World Cup best was fourth, and she has been steadily working her way up the elite ranks.
The same three, Fullana, Spitz and Kalentieva, will also miss the next World Cup in Bromont, Quebec, this weekend, which again leaves the door open for racers like Gould.
On her first attempt to make the US Olympic team, the Luna racer is the kind of professional who clearly loves to race in addition to finding racing itself a perfect way to improve her condition and skills.
"A lot of times when I'm not scheduled for a major race, I still go to a local race because I think racing is the best kind of training. It's easier mentally for me to push myself in a race than to go out for some training ride by myself and go hard," said Gould.
Gould's path to earning a place on the US Olympic team has not been without challenges.
"I started out the season really strong, and I was pretty optimistic. I had a couple good races. The first World Cup, I got fifth place. Then, I had an off weekend in Germany, but I got fifth place again in Madrid."
Gould's chances of being selected for the US Olympic team were looking good this spring since the criteria for making the team were based largely on World Cup performances up through the World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy, in June. But she soon saw how tenuous her position was.
Gould travelled back to the US for a National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) race in Santa Barbara, California, in May. That's where she got heat stroke. "It was the first time I'd ever gotten heat stroke," said Gould. "It's also the first time I've ever had a blacked-out experience - when I didn't remember stuff."
Read the complete interview with Georgia Gould.