A tough Olympic experience

In the course of a long sports career, most of us experience some great moments that we never forget. But bad experiences are also part and parcel of the life of the athlete, and the experience can, at times, be brutal. My day in London was very rough in many ways.

The preparations before the Olympics went very much according to plan, and my results during the past months have been even better than I had dared to hope. Kenneth and I arrived in London five days before the day of the race, and all the conditions were perfectly lined up for me to perform my very best. Even so, things went so terribly wrong after only a few hundred metres, and I never even really managed to properly start my Olympic race.

The World Cup final in Val d'Isere (France), exactly two weeks before my race in London, was the final test of how I could expect to perform in the Olympics. I got top results and felt sure I was bang on time according to my schedule which had been made before the start of the season. It's seven years since I last won the World Cup final (Fort William, Scotland) and it was naturally a very enjoyable experience.

Solid preparations

After the World Cup in France, we travelled home to Sandnes for a few days to cycle on familiar and well-suited tracks, and to do some high speed training behind the moped. Our family was most helpful in minding Bjørnar for us, so that every day could be utilised to its fullest potential regarding training, massage and restitution. We were extremely lucky with the weather conditions at home during that week, too, so we managed to complete all the training we had planned to do.

In London, we were housed in a private home, only a few kilometres from the track, and our mechanic (Ralf Tiede), our physiotherapist (Oliver Wrobel) and our own cook (Ståle) had already moved in and were ready to do their best on both our behalves. We were out on the track, training on both Wednesday and Friday as planned, and both body and mind felt great. I was naturally tense and nervous as I always am before important races - it's just part of the whole experience.

I usually warm up on the rollers for a total of 40 minutes before a race, and my legs and pulse felt as they always feel when I'm in good shape and am on top of things. At the start, I will often talk a bit to myself about focussing on the challenges, not stressing unnecessarily, confronting myself with what sort of physical shape I'm in, and how I performed in my last race. Simply calming my nerves a bit by telling myself that it's only a race and that I'm heading out to have fun on my bike again.

The crash ruined everything

I wasn't first out of the start, but was up at the front and was among the first eight to 10 girls. But then things went terribly wrong at the first rock garden, which actually wasn't demanding at all. There were three possible lines to follow over the drop and all the girls in front of me chose the line to the right. I therefore thought the obvious choice was to choose the middle line to the left of them, in order to avoid waiting in a queue. However, I hesitated too much and had too little speed, I had half a second of lack of full attention, and this all resulted in an overbalance to the one side, and suddenly I was lying on the ground.

Thus, the whole of the first group sped past me, and I had to run up the next small steep hill before I managed to get onto my bike again. I was more or less in shock at that point and traversed the next rock gardens very awkwardly. I very soon felt that my legs were full of lactic acid, a combination of the shock and that I had actually bumped my whole right side badly, from my ankle to my hip. It was very difficult getting back into a basic working frame of mind again, as neither my legs would cooperate nor would my mind stop thinking about what had gone wrong in the first descent!

You can compare what I experienced in the Olympic race with having an important presentation, maybe for a huge contract, where everything is ruined by a tiny mistake in the introduction. A large team is assembled in a task force a whole year before, with the single goal of presenting something impressive for a big potential customer for the company.

The person making the presentation makes a few small mistakes in the introduction and their thoughts get hung up on what went wrong instead of focusing on what is to be presented and conveyed and done. It feels as if I never actually got going on the race, and when I punctured in the third round, because I had made masses of minor mistakes and been stressing about my lousy start, the race was over for my part.

A lot to be grateful for

Now a good week has passed since the disappointment in London, and I'm still annoyed about the stupid mistakes I managed to make right after the start, which had such fatal results. Even so, the disappointment has receded, and looking at the larger picture, I am able to be grateful and to actually see everything we've performed and accomplished during this year's season.

Mountain biking is a sport with extremely small margins for error. There are myriad factors which determine whether one has success, even on a day when one is in incredible shape. In the course of my career, I have lost a very clear world championship title due to a puncture, and I have lost the combined World Cup title by just a few points because of a puncture, so this is not the first time I experience a brutal disappointment as an athlete.

What it's all about, as with life in general, is how one tackles these disappointments. It's about what one can learn from them, and what can be used to positive ends. Winning an Olympic gold medal is the greatest achievement of all for most athletes, including myself, but I haven't based the past three years on success on just one day. That wouldn't be fair to me, nor to my family, sponsors, or Merida either. There are many people investing both money and time so that I can win big races throughout a whole season, and for this reason it is important that I quickly manage to look forwards towards new goals in my chosen sport.

World championship preparations In Livigno

We were only at home for two days before heading off again for Livigno, where we are right now. Our plan was to take part in the Birkebeinerrittet race at home in Norway before leaving for the world championships, but we needed to get into a good working rhythm again, and Livigno is like good medicine in this respect.

I have good experiences with the altitude here, and they have fantastic training conditions on the roads and in the mountains. Technical training is simply a total El Dorado here with the freeride tracks, plus excellent food and the hospitality of the inhabitants. We were looking very much forward to taking part in this celebration of enjoyment through sports that Birkebeinerrittet is, but we'll have to take a rain-cheque and rather do it next summer.

Our plan is to drive to Basel/Muttenz on Saturday afternoon and take part in a Swiss Cup race this coming Sunday. It'll just be a car-ride down, the race, and then up to the high altitude again. Apart from that, we’re enjoying good days of training, a whole lot of rest, and a lot of treatments for me (Kenneth has always had to work harder and a greater number of hours than me per day, and these weeks are no exception).

Bjørnar and Mosse (my father) are enjoying the summer days here together. We've had up to 30 degrees Centigrade here every day since we arrived, and we are only four out of many thousands of tourists who are here in Livigno during the month of August.

I wish both the participants and the organization behind the Birkebeinerrittet lots of luck. I hope the trip from Rena to Lillehammer is a great experience which turns out to be something you'd like to do again, and gives you motivation so the bike gets used every day, both for training and commuting to and from work, and for other important errands.

Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita
Multivan Merida Biking Team
[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]

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Norwegian cross country mountain bike racer Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå is a favorite on the international mountain bike circuit.  For years, she has delighted loyal fans as she raced her heart out in cross country and marathon events.

She made an impressive comeback in 2008 after a season of illness. In 2008, she won the Madrid, Spain, round of the UCI World Cup and the UCI Marathon World Championships and finished 12th in the World Cup final standings.

Dahle Flesjå then took on the challenge of motherhood in 2009 when she gave birth to her first child in the spring. With the support of her husband Kenneth Flesjå and her family, she returned to competition within a few months after becoming a mother.

Dahle Flesjå was World Champion in 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006, plus Olympic champion in 2004. In 2003 to 2006, she dominated the sport, winning the World Cup overall.

Follow her faithfully recounted exploits on Cyclingnews as she balances the roles of mother and elite racer. Or, for more Gunn-Rita, see her personal website:

www.gunnrita.com (opens in new tab)