So that’s what a race looks like.
A year and a half out of competition because of the pandemic, eight nations sent teams to the qualifying round of the women’s track cycling team pursuit at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games early Monday morning, including Team USA featuring Duanesburg High School and Union College graduate Emma White.
Three of the teams posted times faster than the world record, and the United States was one of those, finishing in 4:10.118 for 4,000 meters at Izu Velodrome to make it to Tuesday’s medal round.
The 23-year-old White teamed up with Chloe Dygert, Jennifer Valente and Lily Williams for the third-fastest time in qualifying and will be on the track with Great Britain (4:09.022) during Tuesday’s team pursuit. Riding as the third team to take the track, Germany set the tone with a world record time of 4:07.307, and Italy (4:11.666) also made it to the medal round.
“Yes, Germany popped out a very fast time, but, to be honest, all four of the qualifying teams had extremely fast times,” said Curtis White, Emma’s older brother and a professional cyclocross rider who has represented the United States at eight World Championships.
“All of those teams had phenomenal rides, and I think after this last year and a half, there was lot of uncertainty of where everyone was at. The USA team knew where they were at, and everyone else kind of secretly knew where they were at, but it was cool to have the veil lifted and see, alright, this is where everyone’s at, everyone put their cards on the table. Now they go into it tomorrow knowing what they need to do.”
France (4:12.511), New Zealand (4:12.536), Australia (4:13.571) and Canada (4:15.832) will also ride again on Tuesday, with only a chance for a bronze medal.
The gold and silver will be awarded out of the top four after the medal round.
The U.S. team came in as a de facto favorite for the gold based on its gold medal performance at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Berlin in late winter of 2020, just before the pandemic reached full force.
The Tokyo Games were postponed, leaving teams to train and prepare in isolation.
On Monday, everyone got a firsthand look at what that preparation had produced. After qualifying, it was then time to make adjustments.
“We knew there would be world records broken this week,” U.S. coach Gary Sutton said in a USA Cycling press release. “That’s the first thing. The track’s quick, and our schedule was for 4:07. We went out for 15-second laps. That’s what the plan was.
“That’s where we’re at at the moment. But, you know, one thing you do here, you take one round at a time and tomorrow is a different day. We’ll go back. We’ll look at the data. We’ll look at the pool structure and try to rearrange things. That’s a big gap. But tomorrow’s a different day.”
“When you’re at a major event like this, there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, changes to equipment,” Curtis White said. “All of a sudden, they have the newest and fastest bike. Or, a couple years ago, the U.S. team was one of the first to move their chain rings to the non-drive side, the left side. If you look at the Great Britain bikes, they had a new technology that I haven’t seen before.
“That kind of goes to the U.S. is really focusing on their process, bringing their best. Because it’s not a head-to-head tactical race, it’s how well they compete with the time they’re allotted and sticking to their process, doing a clean run, trusting their numbers, their process, their effort and all the work that they’ve put in.”
Some of that work for Dygert included recovering from a horrific crash while leading the individual time trial at the Road World Championships in Italy in September, when she suffered a gruesome gash to her leg after flipping over a barricade.
Heading into Monday’s track team pursuit, Dygert had already competed in two other events at Tokyo, the road race and road time trial.
“She looked like she was riding very strong,” Curtis White said. “As athletes, our opponents aren’t the only things we have to beat in sport. For Chloe, she had to beat this injury. As a team, they needed to beat the uncertainty or the anxiety of, is everyone 100%? I think they’ve done the best that they could with the time that they had, and there’s really no excuses at this point.
“They’ve proven to be very calculated. When they’ve performed well in the past or won big races, they know how they’ve needed to alter their effort to go two, three, four seconds faster. They’re the experts, they know what they need to do, and they’ve got good leadership, a very good backbone to the team. The athletes are all on it. I’m confident they know what they need to do.”
What Emma White’s family and friends need to do for the second day in a row is be awake Tuesday at 2:30 a.m. EDT, if they want to watch the medal round on the livestream.
Curtis White said that would be no problem for anyone. In fact, he said he and Emma’s parents, Tom and Chris, didn’t even bother going to bed and setting the alarm, opting to simply stay up all night to watch Monday’s qualifying round.
For her part, Emma White appeared comfortable and confident Monday, smiling to herself as the cameras panned across the Americans as they were just getting into the standing start for their qualifying run.
“She gave a little smile on the camera, she seemed very calm and cool, collected,” Curtis said. “I think they’re such a fine-tuned machine at this point that they know they’re not expecting 20 or 30 watts more than normal, they’ve done this 100 times. I think at this point they can do this effort in their sleep.
“I reached out to her a couple times, but she’s in her team environment and kind of shutting the world out at this point. Which is good. But I’ve been talking to people that I went to high school with or went to college with or mutual friends of ours, they’re all wondering where and when to watch her, just a ton of people shooting messages of support. A lot of people are waking up at 2:30 in the morning to watch these races, which is really cool.”
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