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An interview with Magen Long, November 30, 2003
Since moving up to the senior ranks this year, 18 year-old Oklahoma cycling sensation Magen Long has left many jaws in the road racing world agape with her uncanny sense of timing and a level of endurance and strength bordering on the insane. In her debut season, she clocked up some phenomenal results, including a top 10 placing among the who's who of criterium racing at this year's national championships. With the road season over, this extraordinary teenager finally managed to slow down for an interview with Trudy van der Straaten.
When meeting Magen Long for the first time, one can't help but be charmed by her pixie-cute persona. But don't be fooled - anyone who has seen her killer sprint knows she's a wildcat on the bike. Born to a bike-racing father ("I was riding a bike before I could put an entire sentence together," she says), at age 3, she was already racing BMX. By the time she was 15, Long held the junior national road, criterium, cross-country mountain bike, cyclo-cross and omnium titles - concurrently - and after being noticed by MTB legend Ned Overend, was quickly signed on by the Specialized MTB team.
Since then, she has added six more junior national championships to her staggering resume, as well as fifth place at the 2001 Junior MTB World's cross country race and 2002 junior road championships. Although she could dominate any cycling discipline, Long says these days she prefers to focus on road racing "because it stimulates your mind and your body. I like crits because they are really animated; attacks, primes - it is intense, that is what I like".
This year saw her riding for the two-girl OBRU/The Bicycle Store team. In addition to several big wins including the U23 national championships time trial, the Tour of Kansas and the infamous Snake Alley to name but a few, Long made the NRC podium five times and in 14th place overall, she was the highest-ranked amateur in the final overall NRC standings - all done without the support of a sqaud full of domestiques. When asked how she manages to hold her own and often outperform some of the best teams in the country, Long smiles and says, "As far as strategy goes, I just race my heart out, try to be smart, watch the key players, and just race my bike."
Despite the untimely exodus of several keys sponsors of professional cycling programs, there's no question that Long would be a valuable addition to any pro team. But for now, she feels it is in her best interest to stay with current coach, The Bicycle Store owner Jim Bueller. "He gave me my first road bike that I was going to race at junior nationals when I was 10 years old. He knows everything about cycling. I love to just sit there and listen to him. He takes care of everything for me. All I have to do is show up ready to race. He is a great mechanic, as well. I know wouldn't have had the results I had last year without him. I owe much thanks to the Jim," she says.
So does that mean she's expanding OBRU/The Bicycle Store then? "We might have some more cool chicks riding with OBRU, but that isn't finished. I mean, of course, the ultimate goal is to ride for a big team and get paid to ride my bike, but right now I am just developing my skills as a cyclist. I don't need to be pigeon holed or anything like that. I need to get better at everything at this age."
Long describes a typical mid-season week as "starting out with an easy spin day, then some speed work, then maybe a long ride, getting ready to leave again for the next race... it is the life, huh?," she says grinning. The life indeed!
So how does she manage to maintain a perfect GPA and a normal teenage social life, all while training, traveling and racing all over the country? "Once a perfectionist, always a perfectionist," Long says with another big grin, "which is why only two per cent of the population are actually professional athletes. My boyfriend of two years spends many evenings watching TV with me on the couch because I am too tired to move, but I work in the fun things more now than I have before. I think you need that balance. You can't just ride, ride, ride - you've got to kick it sometimes."
Although she makes it sound like everything comes easily to her, 2003 was an excruciatingly difficult year for her. Long's mother, Juanita, passed away last May after a long battle with kidney illness. "Growing up is hard," she says. "As well as all the normal things that I have to go through as a teenage girl, I also have to go through things as a maturing cyclist as well. But the hardest thing that I have had to get used to this year and forever is not being able to talk to my Mommy after I race, hands down," she says.
It's an almost chilling testament to her incredible tenacity and inner strength that the day after her mother passed away, she claimed victory in the national espoir time trial championship, as well as taking Snake Alley the following weekend. "My mother taught my how to FIGHT and how to not give up. She is still my best friend. I truly believe that she was there with me on those two days. She gave me the strength to keep going and keep my head high. My entire career is dedicated to her."
Despite her consistently stellar results throughout the year, Long appears to be vaguely unaware of her growing reputation as a world-class cyclist. When asked what she felt was her proudest cycling moment to date she replied, "At the Clarendon Cup I broke away with Ina [Teutenberg] and got third, and it gave me the confidence to go on and give it my all at the San Francisco Grand Prix. I felt like I belonged, like I had respect, you know." (No, not really!) Although she may not quite appreciate how far she has come at such a young age, Long nonetheless has her sights set high for the future: "To the World's, to the top of the podium - rainbow jersey all the way", she says definitively, "and some Olympic rings would be nice too!"
When it comes to female athletes, no interview is complete without dredging up the seemingly perpetual gender inequity issue. Although it's been getting better over the last decade thanks largely to Saturn's efforts, funding and support for women's cycling programs and teams is still woefully behind the men's programs.
'I bet they've been times when you've walked away with less prize money than some of the guys whom you could probably beat if you raced them, right?', I asked her. "Our time will come, I can't dwell on it because I used to get really worked up about it and it comes down to that our time will come," says Long rather sagaciously. "We need to get more media out there to the normal girl. I talk to girl scout groups and I want to start going to schools and stuff to get more girls interested, just to show them that there is more out there than the normal high school sports."
With the departure of Saturn and Diet Rite, two of the most successful women's teams on this year's domestic circuit, women's cycling programs nonetheless appear to be facing an uphill battle. "Saturn was a great shock to me - I couldn't believe what I was hearing when I heard about that," she concedes. "Both teams had such great riders and really prominent programs this season. They had great rider support too. It is just going to be so odd not seeing Saturn, kind of sad you know?"
Apart from lack of financial support, what does Long see as the biggest challenge facing women cyclists? "Stepping up our training so that we are all competing so that the same three girls don't win everything - this will give hope to girls that are just starting out," she says.
So then, what's on the cards next year? "Racing my butt off and lovin' it!," she says, grinning mischievously.