The rainbow jersey came back to the U.S. in women’s track cycling team pursuit on Thursday.
And Emma White found gold at the end of it.
With teammates Jennifer Valente, Chloe Dygert and Lily Williams, the Duanesburg High and Union College graduate won a world championship at the Velodrome in Berlin, Germany, with a convincing victory over Great Britain in the gold medal round.
It capped a dominating two days of competition for Team USA’s women’s pursuit at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships, where the 22-year-old White helped the Americans break a national record for 4k and regain the rainbow jersey that signifies the champion.
After winning at worlds three straight years, Team USA finished seventh in qualifying in 2019 and lost in the first round, White’s first experience at this event.
“It was awesome,” she said in a phone interview shortly after the championship race. “It’s been an overwhelming couple of hours.
“So many things are going through your head [on the podium]. It still doesn’t feel real yet. But right in the forefront for all of us was Kelly, absolutely. I have this necklace that she gave me from Minnesota — she was obsessed with her home state. It’s pretty emotional.”
White was referring to Kelly Catlin, a star on the U.S. team who died by suicide at the age of 23 almost 12 months ago. The team dedicated this competition to her, and Catlin was also White’s teammate on her pro team, Rally Cycling.
Team USA actually broke the American record on Wednesday during qualifying, with a 4:11.229, then just missed breaking it again in the gold medal race by seven-thousandths of a second. Those races were sandwiched around a 4:11.634 in the first round on Thursday, a few hours before they were back on the track for the gold medal round. The finish times for their three races were separated by just .405 seconds.
With 12 countries in qualifying, eight making it to the first round and four to the medal rounds, there were five sub-4:12 performances, and Team USA accounted for three of those.
And the Americans wasted no time getting the jump on Great Britain, using Valente to gain the early advantage and leaning on Dygert to close it out. The 1.994-second margin of victory was the largest in the gold medal race since the U.S. won by 2.723 in 2016.
“We were super-consistent; very rarely is it like that,” White said. “Usually you get faster progressively through the rounds. And our time in the first round was a national record. We have our coach [Gary Sutton] to thank for that.
“Before each round, he puts together a schedule, he’ll say ‘Let’s do 15.3-second laps,’ and he’s standing there and tells us up, down or right on, and it’s our job to keep him right on. You don’t want to overpace early and then fall off the last 1k.
“We know our strengths, and that’s at the very beginning and the very end, and in the middle we just have to keep it together. We’re confident that we have the best starter in Jennifer, and then Chloe Dygert finishes off the ride. She carries most of the load for about six [of 16] laps, she’s definitely our weapon, but everybody has a role.”
Although the official announcement won’t come until May 1 and White isn’t at liberty to say for now, there’s little doubt that she’ll be on the U.S. Olympic Team for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
In the meantime, winning a world championship is especially gratifying, since she was convinced by USA Cycling to switch disciplines and is still relatively new to track cycling.
“This is pretty unbelievable. It’s at the top of my bucket list,” White said. “The last two years have been a bit of a rollercoaster. We haven’t had the same success, and I left my other sport, which is cyclocross. I was confident in that decision, but this was a big change. This secures that decision.
“It was old news for them [Valente and Dygert], but for myself and Lily, we were on cloud nine.”
The Track Cycling World Championships, which run through Sunday in a variety of other categories, were supposed to be over for White on Thursday.
But after arriving in Berlin last week, she learned that Team USA had secured another spot, with Dygert, in the individual pursuit, and White was picked to fill it. She’ll ride that race on Saturday.
She has competed in individual pursuit just once, finishing third at Pan Ams in Bolivia last year.
“Chloe Dygert is the world record holder, so she’s the big dog, and I’ll just be out there to see what I’m capable of,” she said. “So it’ll be more of an experience thing for me.”
It will also postpone the full celebration of her team pursuit gold medal for a few more days.
“I will not lie, I thought tonight would be a different night,” White said with a laugh. “But come Saturday, we’ll celebrate, and then it all ends on Sunday, so we’ll really celebrate then.”