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28th Olympic Games - JO
Athens, Greece, August 14-28, 2004Track 101
August 20-25: Women's track events
That's Womens' business
Can Van Moorsel take gold from the road to the track?
By Karen Forman
3 km pursuit
Just three months have passed since, on a chilly night Down Under in Australia, New Zealander Sarah Ulmer modestly snatched the women's individual pursuit world record right from under reigning record holder and former world champion, Dutchwoman Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel's nose, when the pair faced off in the qualifying rounds
After setting the new record of 3.30.604 (Van-Moorsel's four year old record of 3.30.816 was set in a qualifying round at the Sydney 2000 Olympics), Ulmer then continued her winning run, taking the gold medal in an event the Dutch rider has made her specialty. In fact, after setting her record in Sydney, Van-Moorsel then went on to win the gold medal.
In Melbourne in May, the 34 year old Van Moorsel, who finished in fifth spot with her 3.35.347, was very accepting of losing her record. "The record was standing for four years and you have to accept that someone can break it," she told Cyclingnews. "Sarah was in very good shape. I saw her riding in training, she was looking very good and I also saw her race in Sydney. I thought if anyone can break the record, it can be Sarah."
At the time, it was wondered in some circles whether the Dutch rider was off form. Or, whether she might be holding back to reach her peak for the Athens Olympics - after which she had said, she would "retire and make lots of babies".
Van Moorsel wasn't admitting to anything. But, in another exclusive interview with us, she hinted that she had been expecting her menstrual period to arrive on the day of her qualifying IP ride, but it hadn't come on time.
"I usually feel bad, without strength, in the days before my period and then very strong and good on the day it comes," she said. "Today it was supposed to come and it didn't - maybe because of nerves - so I didn't feel as good as I might have."
Having already said she was keen to have children, there were even some insipid suggestions around the track that perhaps the late period meant the first of those offspring was already on its way! But she quickly discounted that. "The same thing also happened last year (at the World's) and may also happen in Athens for the Olympics," she said. "I hope not." On the other hand, she broke her hour record last October on the first day of her cycle...
Whatever the reason for her less-than expected form in Melbourne, it was the last thing on anybody's mind when she showed brilliant form to successfully defend her women's road time trial gold medal from Sydney in Athens on Wednesday this week. She had an astonishing Olympics in 2000, also winning the women's road race as well as the women's individual pursuit on the track (Ulmer took fourth on the day) and the silver in the women's point race.
Interestingly in Sydney, the road events followed the track events, but in Athens, it's the other way around. Van-Moorsel will go onto the track on Friday with her road time trial gold medal safely tucked away but a disappointing memory of the road race, where despite every effort to defend her gold medal, she ended up instead with bruising crashing while in second position in the main field.
Riding behind Spaniard Joane Somarriba, Van-Moorsel touched wheels with her peer while looking over her own shoulder, tumbling to the ground and taking several other riders with her. Visibly shocked and holding her head in pain, Van Moorsel was helped to the side of the road for further inspection, her race over. But two days later, she was back on the bike and back in form to take the time trial.
The question is, can she maintain her form to continue her gold medal run on the track? Australian professional Bradley McGee has proven that it's possible in the past, but Van Moorsel has some tough contenders - none the least, Ms Ulmer.
While Van Moorsel said at the end of the World's fixture in Melbourne: "At the Olympics my goal will be to break Sarah's record and then that will be my last race before I retire," world champion and world record holder Ulmer is favourite to take the gold. And, she hasn't spent the past week riding Olympic road races and time trials. Rather, as she told Cyclingnews this week, she arrived in Athens only on Monday in a bid to give herself as much protection from concentration-busting Olympic hype as possible. Ulmer wasn't prepared to comment on Van Moorsel's dazzling time trial, saying she preferred to concentrate on getting through the qualifiers first.
Also looking for a medal in the pursuit in Australian Katie Mactier, the silver medalist in Melbourne. Mactier has reportedly been working hard to improve her third lap, when she traditionally slows up after two incredibly quick entry laps and also her mental preparation. She is known to become quite anxious before an event.
500m Time Trial
The anxiety is likely to be shared by Aussie team mate Anna Meares who will contest the 500 metre women's time trial as the reigning world champion following her stunning mastership of the event in Melbourne. It's not easy, after all, to follow in the footsteps of such an esteemed and experienced rider as reigning Olympic champ Frenchwoman Felicia Ballanger.
Meares came close to gold in the women's sprint in Melbourne, clinching the silver to Russian Svetlana Grankovskaya (Russia) and will be looking to go one better in Athens when the sprint qualifiers get under way on Sunday.
Van Moorsel will skip the points race this time after winning gold in Sydney, and the top favourite will be reigning world champion Russian married mother of one, Olga Slyusareva who rode a dazzling race in Melbourne, taking a lap. This will be Slyusareva's first Olympics and her dream is to win the gold medal in the only event she trains to contest. "I love it because it is a group race," she explained to Cyclingnews in Melbourne.
Italian Vera Carrara was the silver medalist in this event in Melbourne and is expected to be on the start line in Athens to do her best for her country. Her countrywoman Antonella Bellutti was the gold medalist at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.
Australian Katherine Bates, who was seventh in Melbourne, is also on the Australian team and is focused on the points race. With most of the attention on her two teammates, Meares and Mactier, Bates may well come up with a medal in an event most riders say is based on "what happens on the day".