This evening Sarah Hammer, Dotsie Bausch and Lauren Tamayo have a chance to make US track history when they aim to be the first from the country to land a medal in the women's team pursuit. Hammer helped drive the trio to fourth in today's qualifiers, and they will ride off against New Zealand for a medal this evening.
Hammer showed that she is back to top form yesterday when she took her third world title, beating Wendy Houvenaghel (Great Britain) by almost four seconds in the gold medal final.
It marked an end to a long, frustrating period for the rider from Temecula, California, who was world champion in 2006 and 2007, but who was then sidelined by back problems. These affected her preparation for the Beijing Olympics, where she finished in fifth place in the pursuit and then crashed out of the points race, breaking her collarbone.
Hammer has worked hard to get back on track and has showed in the past two days that she has succeeded in that aim. She paid credit to massage therapist Doug Thralls just before receiving her new rainbow jersey, saying that he, and others, played an important part in her rehabilitation.
"I'd like to thank this guy right here," she said, pointing to Thralls. "I wouldn't be able to do it without him. We even flew him over to Switzerland a month and a half ago...that is how much I need him. He has been a huge part of me getting back. I have to take care of my back on a daily basis; I have to be smart about it, as it still does act up."
Hammer's back first really flared up in May 2007 when on her road bike, but she said that it was an ongoing problem that suddenly worsened rather than something which came out of the blue.
"It was a road race that completely made it bother me, messed it up, but I always had a nagging issue," she admitted, speaking of the issues which resulted in an annular tear in her L4/L5 disc. "It came from not being smart with things when I was younger, and just not being smart in general. I am naturally really strong, so it was from relying on that and not working on fundamentals of core strength and keeping up on doing things for my back."
Apart from receiving treatment from Sparks and others, she also received advice from the Specialized BG Fit team, who helped her determine an issue with her bike which was aggravating her condition. "I use a Specialized Ruby saddle now and that helps...I realised that before my saddle was too narrow and I was rocking too much. That has given me stability and has helped.
"That is one part of it. Just getting strong all round is another part of it. Going back to working more on fundamental things, on the riding aspect...it is better than just relying on my complete power, which I did for many years. Now as you can see through my times, I am much more consistent, instead of just going for it and holding on, which is how I used to ride."
Hammer is visibly more solid than before. She had a very choppy style when taking her previous two world titles but this time she moves her upper body around less. She's fighting her opponents now, not her bike.
Two more medal chances
This evening hands Hammer, Bausch and Tamayo the chance to grab a bronze medal. They were .206 seconds off the New Zealand team in the qualifiers but if they focus and work well together, the task is possible. Hammer said yesterday that she was 'really excited' about the challenge.
"We just got our team together this winter, and so we are slowly progressing. We are hopefully shooting for a top five and, if we had a great day, to get to do a second ride."
They've achieved that now, going through to the finals. Once there, they'll try to take things to the next step but, either way, they've already started the ball rolling on an important addition to the US track campaign.
Following the final, Hammer will be back in action in two days time. "I'll do the omnium on Saturday. We'll see how it goes. Obviously it is not the Olympic format, it's a shorter distance. But I have been racing track since I was 14, so I have done all the races. We will see how it goes, I'll go out to have some fun."
Longer term, it's all about the Olympics. Beijing didn't quite go to plan, but she's feeling good again and is fully focused on being in her best shape possible in London in two year's time.