There are four American women waiting to step into the limelight and help make history when their team pursuit debuts in the Olympic programme tonight: Sarah Hammer, Lauren Tamayo, Jennie Reed and Dotsie Bausch will take part in three rounds of racing over the next two days to fight for the medals.
It will be an uphill battle for the team which set the world record in the discipline at the 2010 Panamerican Championships, shortly after its inclusion in the world calendar. Since then, the British team has emerged as favourites, with Canada, Australia and New Zealand also closing down the gaps. In order to hone their technique and training, the quartet spent the past two months working together at the velodrome in Palma, Mallorca, a luxury they had never previously enjoyed.
"In the last two races, the London test event and the world championships, we were fifth in the team pursuit," Hammer said. "After those two races, we had a get together and tried to figure out how to take the next step. Obviously things have developed, and the racing is only going to get faster. Our goal is to get a medal, whatever color it may be. That would be an incredible achievement for our team. It's a possibility - we have such talent on the team - we just needed to figure out how to get the best out of each of us.
"We had great training sessions in Mallorca and also here in London. We're just looking forward to racing right now. It's the first time we've spent a dedicated amount of time together that wasn't leading up to an event. It was nice, we were able to focus on training and not necessarily performance. I think we got a lot out of it, and learned a lot. Hopefully it pays off."
Unlike the road events, where riders compete regularly against each other and know where they stand relative to the competition, the track racers spend many months leading up to the Games apart. Because of this, the US team's chances are for a medal are still largely unknown.
"It's a very different aspect compared to the road," Hammer explained to Cyclingnews. "A lot of times in the World Cups, not everybody attends. You don't have to race to get fitness, and when you go to races you actually lose fitness during the racing because the efforts are so short. So it's always a guessing game where everybody is at. Everyone has their own plan - but they're all aiming to come into the Games even faster than ever before. That's what is exciting about it."
Whatever their place, the American women will step into history as some of the first to contest the team pursuit at the Olympic Games, and the first to enjoy equality in the number of events in track cycling. For Hammer, it is a bittersweet moment, because the changes eliminated her previous focus, the individual pursuit, and denied her a second chance after a back injury hampered her gold medal effort in Beijing.
Now focussing on the team pursuit and omnium, Hammer can see the positives in the new programme. "For myself, one of the down sides is the individual pursuit is gone, but to be able to have two events for the endurance riders, especially the team events is such a great thing. It's shocking, we haven't had team events for women's sprint or endurance before. It's a great thing, and it's about time. It will be a great showcase for everybody."
Hammer hopes to inspire another generation of girls and women to take up track racing and continue the USA's path to Olympic greatness.
"We hope we've paved the path for future American women to come up and for the event in general. Hopefully that will continue for us after we're gone.
"I think this is going to be one of those Olympics that everyone looks back upon - it's going to have a huge wow-factor. Especially with the team from Great Britain [going so well]. Track cycling is their big sport for these Olympics. Hopefully, we will have some American supporters in the stands, I encourage them to be very loud for us, especially in the team pursuit."
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