Stephanie Morton took a few steps closer to her goal of making 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. The 23-year-old dominated the sprint competition at the recent Oceania track championships in Adelaide, taking a clean sweep of three gold medals. Despite recent form, Morton began the five-day event with modest expectations.
"I went into it wanting to try some new things and if I got that right then I was going to be pretty stoked regardless of the outcome. They did and to get all of them was pretty exciting," Morton tells Cyclingnews after a training session at the Adelaide Super-Drome.
That is Morton all over; modest. The Adelaide-born rider has had a break-through season, taking medals almost every time she hits the boards. Not only that but she has been bringing the fight to current Australian sprint queen Anna Meares, knocking her off the top spot in the individual sprint at the Commonwealth Games and the Oceania championships. She also held off Meares on the final day of racing in Adelaide to complete her hat-trick of medals.
Mears v Morton
Morton already looks primed to take over the sprint crown, but Meares is surely not going to go down without a fight and the rivalry looks set to rumble on all the way to Rio. When they're not trying to outdo each other on the track the two are close friends, but Morton says that isn't a problem when it comes down to the crunch.
"We've just got to make sure that what happens on the track stays on the track. We've got really good at switching between Steph and Anna off the track and Steph and Anna who race against each other," she explains. "We're really great friends off the track. We're rooming and we're training together every day. We see each other a lot. I think I see Mearsy more than I see my own family."
Little by little
For Morton, however, it is all about the small steps towards the bigger picture and being able to compete and train with Meares only pushes her to work harder. "It's great getting to train with Anna every day and train with her to see how she does things," says Morton.
"I love racing against her because she's one of the best sprinters we've ever seen and that's where my benchmark is, an Olympic champion. She makes me a better rider."
The immediate target for Morton is the track World Cup, which begins in Guadalajara, Mexico on November 8. It will be the first real opportunity to test where she is in a full field of the world's best. Morton expects to find strong opposition from Germany, China and Great Britain. Despite her the hugely successful start to the season, Morton is once again modest in her expectations.
"I'd like to probably get on the podium again, that would be nice, but it is small steps for me. Pretty much making the finals would put a smile on my dial and making a podium would be great."
Road to Rio
That bigger picture is making her Olympic debut in Rio 2016. Morton already has a Paralympics under her belt as a pilot during the London 2012. She and partner Felicity Johnson rode to gold in the 1 km Time Trial B event, an experience that she will carry with her for a long time.
"It was such an experience, it was something that I'll never forget," she says. "It was an absolutely humbling experience riding with the Paralympic team. Some of the people you meet are so inspirational and it makes you realise how lucky we are to be able bodied and just how quickly you can become disabled. Just how these people turn their lives around. One minute they're on their death beds and the next their elite athletes representing their country."
She also believes that the experience will assist her in her battle for places in the Rio squad. "I think it was a great benefit having that exposure. Even now, preparing for Commonwealth Games and World Cups, having that Paralympic experience helps. Getting used to the crowds and the expectation and just how your body copes with travels. If I make Rio then that Paralympic experience will help me."
If Morton continues to develop as she has over the past few seasons, a medal is Rio is certainly not out of the question. For now though the training in Adelaide continues and Morton is confident that Australia will be able to take the fight to their rivals.
"We're doing our bit down here and working hard, so it's game on."