As the quote attributed to Mark Twain goes, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a few minutes.”
That applied to world records, broken three times by Germany, in women’s track cycling team pursuit at the Tokyo Olympic Games on Tuesday.
A Team USA group that included Duanesburg High School and Union College graduate Emma White, Jennifer Valente, Chloe Dygert and Megan Jastrab twice posted times that would’ve crushed the world record that existed before the Tokyo Games began.
And that wasn’t nearly fast enough to keep up with the competition, as Germany won the gold medal with its third world record (4:04.242) at Tokyo, while Team USA was able to win the race for the bronze medal by beating Canada.
With Jastrab subbing in for Lily Williams, who rode in Monday’s qualifying round and pulled out while on the second wheel, Team USA covered the 4,000 meters at the Izu Velodrome in 4:08.040, against a 4:10.552 for Canada, leading at every split to take the bronze. Germany completed the event by posting the 4:04.242 to beat Great Britain (4:10.607) by a comfortable margin to win the gold medal.
After a year and a half out of competition because of the pandemic, the Americans came into the Olympics designated as the favorites based on their gold medal at the UCI World Championships in Berlin on March 1 of last year. White said that, in light of the stellar performances by everyone, the bronze medal was a victory in itself.
“We came here to get more than the bronze, being the defending world champions,” she said during the post-race press conference.
“The rides today were absolutely phenomenal. We’re really proud of what we did today. The blistering rides from Germany and G.B. today show how competitive this event is getting. Although this past year has been full of struggles, we’re proud of how we competed.”
“How they were able to control their process and roll with the punches, and still come away with a medal with a ride that would’ve been a world record ride 24 hours ago is something special,” said White’s older brother Curtis, a pro cyclocross rider who has represented the United States at eight world championships.
“I know everyone wanted a gold, but the fact that each of those teams were on par for a world record speaks to how high the level is and how high a level the team had to operate at.”
U.S. coach Gary Sutton predicted before the Tokyo Games that world records would fall, and he wasn’t kidding.
The world record coming into Tokyo was 4:10.236, set by Great Britain to win the gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, when the U.S. team of Dygert, Valente, Kelly Catlin and Sarah Hammer won the silver.
Of the 20 total performances at Tokyo — through Monday’s qualifying and Tuesday’s first round and medal round — 12 were faster than Great Britain’s time at Rio. Team USA went faster than 4:10.236 on all three of their rides.
But nobody was catching the Germans.
The Americans set a national record in the first round with a 4:07.562, but it wasn’t quite good enough in a tight race to get past Great Britain (4:06.748) and advance to the gold medal heat.
Great Britain led for the first half of the race, then Team USA pulled ahead over the last two laps, but Great Britain came back at the finish to win by .814 seconds.
“We’re proud of what we did out there,” team captain Valente said. “We left everything on the track. It’s just that Team G.B. had a little more gas.
“I think anytime you come into the Olympics, you want to go for gold, and today we put together some of the best rides that we were able to, and today . . . it [earned] bronze — and we’re really proud of everything behind that, and what this bronze means after a year and a half of not racing and really just coming together.”
“On top of the uncertainty of Chloe coming back from injury, there was the uncertainty of this new athlete [Jastrab], the pressure that that brought,” Curtis White said. “But I think their last two runs were very good, especially their last run. It seemed very clean. So their ability to rally and being in a good mindset still and perform at a high level, that was really, really cool to see.”
Emma White is still relatively new to track cycling, converting from cyclocross in 2018 when her talent and potential were recognized at a Team USA training camp.
Cyclocross is not an Olympic sport, so track gave her an opportunity to pursue that, even though the transition wasn’t always easy.
“I started riding the track in 2018, with the hopes of coming to these Olympic Games in 2020,” she said. “Never did I really believe that I would be here until the World Championships in Berlin last March. It’s been a wild ride with this amazing team. It took a lot of believing, because I didn’t always think that I was capable of it. I have my team to thank for that and the coaches.”
“There’s a lot that goes into these tiny, tiny moments in sport. They had to do a lot right in a very short period of time,” Curtis White said.
“So to see them get the medal, I’ve seen all the work that Emma has put in, we’ve talked about that, the highs, the lows that sport brings, that was just really, really cool to see.
“We started racing road and cyclocross, and it wasn’t too long ago that she was in a completely different discipline, and she made the switch to something new. But that’s life, right? To continue to grow and evolve as a person, you need to keep putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. And I know that she wasn’t comfortable initially on the track, but she’s really grown into her own as an athlete and as a person.”
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