Team USA wanted to go faster, so they did — during a pitstop.
Emma White and most of her women’s track cycling teammates who will be competing in the team pursuit portion of their sport at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics next month arrived in Los Angeles from Colorado Springs on Sunday to take advantage of the VELO Sport Center in Carson, California.
The idea was to perform the last segment of fine-tuning on a velodrome track that more closely resembles the one they’ll compete on in Tokyo than the one at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado.
White, a 23-year-old Duanesburg High School and Union College graduate, is part of a team that is favored to win the gold medal. This week’s work in California was the penultimate stop on this journey before they fly to Japan at 1 a.m. PDT Sunday.
“This track is just so much different than the one in Colorado Springs,” she said on Thursday afternoon. “It’s a lot more similar to what we’ll be riding in Tokyo. It’s a little bit short, the slants are steeper and it’s just overall faster.
“Being back on some wooden boards is really nice. It takes away that pressure of getting to Tokyo and really having to figure out the track. This is a good way to ease into it before we get to Tokyo.”
White teamed with Chloe Dygert, Jennifer Valente, Lily Williams and Megan Jastrab to win the 2020 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Berlin in February of 2020.
Then the pandemic hit, and the team has been preparing for the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Games with virtually no racing.
They believe the pitstop in California will be a valuable final touch on the lead-up to Tokyo. The VELO Sports Center will be the site of indoor track cycling for the 2028 Olympics and was used by Team USA for a training camp a few months ago.
“We made a decision as a team to come here for the week because we train on a 333-meter track in Colorado Springs,” Team USA USA women’s track endurance cycling coach Gary Sutton said. “This is 250 and very close shape to the one in Japan, and I’m so glad we came here, because we realize your exchanges and feel and technique changes from a 333 to a 250. So we’ve been working on that this week. We have one more tomorrow [Friday] and leave on Sunday.”
Dygert is competing in the road racing event this weekend, so she’s already in Tokyo.
Because of ongoing coronavirus concerns in Japan, where Tokyo is currently under its fourth declared state of emergency, White and her teammates have been taking every precaution.
On top of that, Los Angeles County has seen a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
“In L.A., it’s pretty bad right now,” White said. “The mask mandates are back in full force. So it is a little bit nerve-racking. The whole team had their second negative test this morning, so we are good to go for travel, and we’re being very safe and really, really minimizing any possible risks. Of course, it’s in the back of my mind, but I’m trusting that we’re doing everything right.
“The whole team is vaccinated and we’re wearing our masks wherever we go. I’ve never been more afraid to get it than now. And you see stories about people testing positive in the [Olympic] Village. That’s just the worst nightmare, to get so close …”
Spectators won’t be allowed at the Olympics, but White’s parents, Chris and Tom, plan to travel to Orlando, Florida, where NBC is hosting a viewing party for family members.
The women’s team pursuit will be held Aug. 2-3, with competition starting at 2:30 a.m. EDT both days.
They’ll miss both the opening and closing ceremonies, but the gold medal is the only thing that really matters now.
“Of course, we’ll watch,” White said. “Closing would’ve been a possibility if it hadn’t been for COVID, so I am a little bit disappointed, but I also am looking at all the opportunities that we do have. So I’m not really disappointed.”
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