Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014: The Wealth of Common Belief

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I had believed I could achieve a result at the Commonwealth Games but I knew it would be an outside chance. Competing against the big cycling nations of England, Australia, and New Zealand, South Africa was clearly an underdog but, when the team first got together in Glasgow, there was no talk of being at a disadvantage. As our team manager, Dean Edwards, laid out the race strategy and named me team leader, I saw all five of my teammates were committed to the common goal. Underdog or not, we were racing for me to medal and that’s when I realized South Africa believed in me too.

Having a team believe in you is one thing, keeping that belief going in yourself the whole race is another. The challenging 14km circuit was technical and, combined with the steep climbs, the main bunch had whittled down just over 20 riders within the first two laps. My teammates had done whatever they could but I was alone. The big cycling nations of England, Australia and New Zealand were well represented so I left the attacking and following up to them. My plan was to follow England’s Lizzie Armitstead.

 

2014-08-03-10.47.32-3-1024x682Attack after attack, small groups and lone riders would get away and be chased down. I was itching to follow a move. I was ready to jump out of my saddle at a moment’s notice but I knew I had to believe in the plan. We had planned for a tactical race. We had planned in case I was alone. We had planned for me to keep it together…but it was just a matter of time. Finally, with 40km to go Lizzie attacked and I was on her move in a flash. Six of us powered away and, with every main nation involved, I knew this was the first big move.

England’s Emma Pooley and Australia’s Tiffany Cromwell and Gracie Elvin played the aggressors of the six attacking one after the other. In a small group of strong riders with only a few laps to go, it seemed like any attack could stay away so it took all the mental strength I had to have faith in the team strategy. As the sky clouded over and the rain began to pour, the six of us, still all together, entered the business end of the race. We rolled through the start/finish and the bell, indicating it was the final lap, amplified the tension of the group. Fourteen kilometres until the gold medal was decided.

Emma broke the tension a few kilometres later, attacking from the back of the group over the top of a climb. Counteracting every cell in me, I didn’t chase. No one did. With nothing left to do but believe in my plan, I settled back in my saddle and watched Lizzie like a hawk. Exactly on cue, right where I had expected her to jump, Lizzie attacked. I didn’t think, I just pedalled.

I followed, along withTiffany and New Zealand’s Linda Villumsen but we soon realized Lizzie and Emma were both gone and we were racing for the Bronze medal. There was no plan or strategy now, I just had to believe in myself and trust my instincts.

We rounded the final corner and with the finish line in site, Linda made first move. In an instant, I was on her wheel and Tiffany was on mine. I started the sprint early. I wanted the initial gap on Tiffany so I took the chance and went long, launching out of the saddle at 200m to go. I could feel Tiffany’s presence on my wheel. Looking past my pedals, she was inching past my back wheel. Then she was next to me. We were neck and neck and as we approached the line I closed my eyes and threw my bike across the finish line. When I opened them, Tiffany seemed to be celebrating and my heart seemed to stop beating. Fourth. By millimetres.

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I made my way through the finish area. I felt a little out of it, exhausted and overwhelmed by what had just happened. Members of the media were congratulating me but, even though I did the best I could, I was disappointed. I couldn’t figure out why they were even asking me for interviews. Soon after, my teammates were surrounding me, overly excited that I had come third. I calmly corrected them, “no guys, I was fourth,” not hiding my disappointment well. Then the team manager thrust the picture of the photo finish in my face and I just stared at it. “Now do you believe it,” he asked me.

I had believed in the team plan and believed in myself but I couldn’t believe I had won the Bronze medal! It wasn’t until I was on the podium that reality really sunk in. I was bursting with happiness but I was also searching the crowd. The power of self belief is amplified when others believe in what you’re fighting for so, when I finally spotted my teammates, Carl and family, I couldn’t help but give them a wave. Together, we won a medal and, together, I believe it won’t be our last.

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