By Sue George
Mary McConneloug (Kenda / Seven) is one of two women representing the United States in the cross country mountain bike race at the Olympic Games in Beijing on Friday, August 22. After finishing ninth at the Olympics in Athens, Greece, McConneloug has spent the past four years travelling the globe with her partner Michael Broderick.
"It's all about balance," said McConneloug of what has been a hectic year leading up to the Olympics.
She and Broderick have spent most of their time on the road, training and travelling to races, first to perform well enough internationally to make the cut for the US Olympic Long Team last winter, and then to all the spring European World Cups and the World Championships to make the final Olympic team.
The two, who rented an RV and travelled all over Europe, faced the daily challenge of staying healthy and fit on the road while also coordinating their logistics.
"I was doing my yoga everyday. I was eating well, sleeping well and training well and those are the biggest priorities. It was intense," said McConneloug of the focus her nomadic, pre-Olympic life required. "I've learned to deal with stress over the past few years and keep my priorities straight.
"We've been really living in the moment. It's been so busy the last four months of my life.
"What I've learned is that to stay calm in stressful situations is going to help more than getting stressed out. All those World Cups in Europe, supporting ourselves and Mike and I not having someone tell us when to be and where was hard.
"We had to feed ourselves and do all the travel in between. We had to look at it as a fun adventure. It's interesting attitude is everything. You have to have a good attitude about everything you're doing and not get down about it - see it as an opportunity."
That attitude could be just what it takes to win a medal in Beijing.
The road to selection
McConneloug attended the spring World Cups and placed consistently well enough to find herself racing on average as the second best American behind Georgia Gould. Based on their performances, Gould and McConneloug seemed to be the obvious choices to fill the two US Olympic team spots, but when the initial mountain bike team selections were announced, only Gould was named.
That brought back the nightmare of the 2004 US team Olympic selections when the battle for the single nomination between McConneloug and Sue Haywood ended up in arbitration. The selection process was confusing and differing interpretations of which races counted in the final points tally gave different outcomes as to which rider should go to Athens. In the end, McConneloug was named to the team.
"The selection process (for the mountain bike team) this time was very fair," said McConneloug. "It was laid out way in advance and we all knew where we needed to be racing and what we needed to do. USA Cycling did a fantastic job of outlining the procedures and we had very similar selection criteria as the other countries."
The problem this time was that a rider from another cycling discipline was contesting not being included on the Olympic team. Since the second women's mountain bike team slot was discretionary, McConneloug's spot could have gone to the protesting rider instead.
"There was an arbitration going on. It was a stressful time because they could have taken the discretionary spot for the mountain bike if they felt she was to be awarded," said McConneloug, who prevailed in the end. "It was a very stressful week. I was on the phone with lawyers. That was supposed to be my rest week."
McConneloug went into the US National Mountain Bike Championships relieved to have made the team, but fatigued from the mental toll taken to get there. But that didn't stop her from repeating her national cross country title win in Mount Snow, Vermont. She triumphed in a showdown with Gould.
"I came into the race not really knowing how I would do just because I'd been training for Beijing, putting in heavy hours the previous weeks before. I'd been thinking forward to having a peak in late August. So I'd planned to rest all week. We had a nice place to stay and rest. I got some bodywork. I was feeling good."
Read the complete interview.
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