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USA unmasks strong track squad

USA track cyclists hold a press conference prior to the events in Beijing

USA track cyclists hold a press conference prior to the events in Beijing (Image credit: Tour of Japan)

By Rob Jones in Beijing, China

The United States of America track team's press conference, just days prior to the start of competition at the Laoshan Velodrome in western Beijing, opened with inevitable questions surrounding their arrival in China wearing breathing masks a week earlier. The topic of air quality turned into controversy when four American riders disembarked from their flight in Beijing wearing protective masks.

While the general media jumped onto the topic and the US Olympic Committee felt the need to apologise on the rider's behalf, it did little to phase the American track team's preparations for this weekend. Both Sarah Hammer and Jennie Reed said they have put the matter behind them, although they are still using the masks.

"For me, I've just tried to surround myself with my family and friends," said Hammer. "This is my first Olympics, so it's overwhelming already, and the more attention that is made, the more stressed out I got. But I have put it behind me now, and moved on to training, and I'm looking forward to racing Friday."

Reed was more succinct. "It's sort of like a bad race, you have to put it behind you and refocus," she said. "There was no malicious intent, we were just taking precautions."

Hammer also said that she continues to use the mask. "I feel healthy after taking these precautions, just like I am coming into any other race," said Hammer. "Yes, I still wear it when necessary, but for the last couple of days it hasn't been necessary."

Hammer's pursuit competition will be spread over three days at this year's Olympic Games. While she outlined Great Britain's Rebecca Romero as her largest threat, after she won the World Championship in May, Hammer also believes she's well prepared for the new format of racing.

"Romero is definitely one of my strongest competitors, but for me it is best just to focus on myself," said Hammer. "The Pursuit has no tactics, you can only go as fast as you can go.

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