Rebecca Wiasak's gold medal winning ride in the individual pursuit may have been a touch over four seconds slower than her breakthrough win 12-months ago in the Vélodrome de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines but the Australian was home and hosed by the final laps and was able to soak in the occasion. The 31-year-old, who only started racing on the track four years ago, was fastest in qualifying with a time of 3:31.287, faced off against Poland's Małgorzata Wojtyra in the final with 6.805 seconds the winning difference.
"I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to defend my tittle. I was named as the reserve for the team pursuit, and that’s still my goal," Wiasak told reporters following the podium presentation. "I am pretty happy with my performances on the track, absolutely. I broke the velodrome record this morning and did a 3:31 which is world class record. I did what I needed to do in the final, and as I said, the whole squad is going really well so I am very excited to watch the next two days of competition and of course as a reserve if I am needed.
"I go out fairly strong and do trail off in the last few final laps so when I did have her in my sights, I was able to relax a little bit knowing it was unlikely she was going to be able to pick up the pace and I felt really comfortable on my gear," she added of the final.
Wiasak may have put in a winning performance on the boards, and one that she was happy with, but her performance in the post-race interview and on the podium was a little off kilter as she described.
"It’s always emotional, I got really tongue tied in my interview before the podium presentation and then I lost my earring on the podium when I slipped the jersey over my head and Brian Cookson is just standing there with my gold medal as I am fixing my earring up. I looked down and was like ‘oh my gosh, I am playing with my earring and he has a world championships medal to put around my neck.’ I didn’t nail the podium and interviews this year," she said with a laugh.
Team pursuit squad and Rio ambitions
While Wiasak has owned the non-Olympic event for the last two year's running, it is the Olympic team pursuit event that she is craving success in. Wiasak was the reserve rider at last year's Worlds when Australia broke Great Britain's stranglehold over the event. Having ridden several World Cup events in the discipline since 2013, Wiasak is aiming to make the squad and ensure her ticket to the Olympics/
"I really want to break into the team pursuit team before Rio. Mel Hoskins is unfortunately unwell and Georgia Baker has really stepped up this season, I am so happy with my own performance today," she added of her Olympic ambitions. "It’s a huge improvement upon my performance national championships, I am really proud of the way I turned that around. The whole squad’s been training so well in the lead up, we were doing times slightly faster than this time last year which is exciting. I did have confidence, I did feel the expectation though but I have been in this position before and I do have the best support around me."
Wiasak singled out national women's endurance coach Gary Sutton as a pivotal figure following her move onto the boards and her determination to take each and every opportunity as it arises with both hands.
“Gary Sutton is one of the best endurance coaches in the world, it showed last year when we won three world medals," she said. "I had full confidence in the gear that he selected for me and then walking the line. I’ve been part of the programme, Cycling Australia's High Performance Unit, for three years and only started track cycling four years ago so it’s been incredible to work with all the staff in Adelaide. We are based there for six-months so it’s a huge commitment, you don’t want to waste opportunities, you have to make it worthwhile when you come to an event like this."
There is one extra position for Rio in the team pursuit compared to previous Olympics when the women's team pursuit was raced over 3000m with three riders, although the selection process isn't any less fierce as a result. Wiasak may be on the fringes currently for team pursuit selection but having proven herself on the world stage on two separate occasions, she has given the national selectors food for thought when it comes to deciding Olympic selection.
“We have so much depth in the women’s endurance squad in Australia so just making the national team to race at the world championships, you know that you are world class and for me to still break into the squad as aback-to-back world champion, it's going to take something special. I keep putting my hand up, but everybody is putting their hand up so it’s really, really solid tight group and we are all so close," she added.
"Its definitely still my goal and being able to perform on the world stage and go through the process you need to at this high level of competition, maintaining your composure and being able to be focused and back up after a hard heat this morning or this afternoon only three hours later to back up in the final. They are all important things and a part of being an elite athlete. I think I nailed all of those things."