Canadian mountain biker Catharine Pendrel has experienced both ups and downs at the Olympic Games. In her latest blog, Pendrel describes how her ninth-place disappointment at the 2012 London Olympic Games taught her how to find the simple joy of racing on a world-class stage in Rio de Janeiro.
Pendrel, a two-time world champion, was a favourite to win heading into the London games but after a promising front-running start, she tired and ended up placing ninth.
"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," she wrote in her blog.
"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.
"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."
In contrast to her performance in London, Pendrel's race in Rio de Janeiro on August 20 was riddled with bad luck. She was caught behind a crash on the opening circuits of the cross-country course and struggled with gearing issues mid-race.
Forced to chase again and again, the cycling world watched as she caught and passed one rider at a time, orbiting the 5km circuits until the two leaders Sweden's Jenny Rissveds and Poland's Maja Wloszczowska were in her sight.
She could not fully close the gap and Rissveds who outpaced Wloszczowska for the gold medal. Pendrel crashed again on the way to the finish line when her foot unclipped from her pedal over a section of rocky terrain. She hung on for the bronze medal just ahead of her chasing compatriot Emily Batty, who took fourth.
"I love my Bronze," Pendrel wrote. "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."
Read Catharine Pendrel's full blog post:
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 20s off the start and rode to 4th, 9 seconds 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.
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 and 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!