By Paul Verkuylen in Ballarat, Victoria
Over one year ago, an initiative by Australian women's cycling coach Warren McDonald, aimed at finding "Women with big engines," was announced at the UCI World Road Championships in Austria. The programme focussed on finding women suited to time trialling, with the aim being to build them up as medal contenders for the Beijing Olympics time trial event.
McDonald began the programme after seeing the huge step forward that other nations had taken in women's time trialling. "There are a number of sports that have shown they have been successful... triathlon and rowing are a couple of big engine sports," McDonald said at the time.
Fast forward to the Australian Championships and the fruits of his labour are for all to see. Bridie O'Donnell of Victoria answered an ad about the programme after spending years competing in other sports, now she is the Australian National time trial champion just eight months out from the Beijing Olympics.
"I was a rower for six years and then I did the Hawaii Ironman and a couple of Ironman triathlons in 2006 before answering this call for a talent identification programme at the end of 2006," she explained.
McDonalds model for the optimum time trialist was thus correct and now with just eight months remaining until the Olympics Australia may very well have a potential contender for the title. O'Donnell was keen to show the selectors her capacity late last year when she paid her own way to France to compete in two important time trials on the women's circuit.
Her results there, seventh at the Chrono Champenois as well as second at the prestigious Chrono des Nations surely had the Olympic selector taking notice. Now, with a national championship gold to add to her growing collection of good results in time trials, she should well and truly be on the radar.
The 33 year-old doesn't see her age as a barrier to success, using her old rowing coach and Barcelona Olympian Peter Antonie as inspiration. Antonie along with Stephen Hawkins won a gold medal in the men's double sculls at the 1992 games at the age of 34.
"He was a really great role model for me and inspiring. Someone who showed that you can get stronger and smarter as an athlete as you get older," she explained.