White, Williams on the year-long haul to Olympic Games

Rally Cycling riders discuss Tokyo dreams and life in the US Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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Having made up a part of Team USA’s victorious world title-winning team pursuit squad, it was no surprise to see Emma White and Lily Williams on the Olympic long team confirmed this week.

While the USA has won the team pursuit title four times in five years, 2020 was the first for new team members White and Williams. Now they find themselves as odds-on favorites to join Chloe Dygert and Jennifer Valente in the pursuit team at Tokyo’s Olympic Games next summer when the final selection is confirmed next April.

Having beaten reigning Olympic champions Great Britain by 1.8 seconds in Berlin this February, the news that the Olympics were to be postponed due to coronavirus came with mixed reaction for track newcomer Williams – relief that the games were not canceled altogether, but the disappointment that world-beating form was going to waste.

“I think we’re all getting used to it now, but the first two or three weeks when things were really uncertain were incredibly stressful,” Williams said in a post on her Rally Cycling team website. “We knew that every athlete across the world was in the same boat, but it’s definitely sad to have that form at worlds and not be able to build and improve upon it.”

Team USA’s winning time at this winter’s championships of 4:11.235 was just one second off a world record, and the youthful squad has high hopes for Gold in the 2021 Games. Living with that medal-winning pressure and expectation, along with the need to maintain Olympic-conquering levels, is both a curse and a blessing for 22-year-old White.

“The Olympic dream is so high up on all of our lists that we will do anything for it,” she said. “I’ve put so much pressure on myself to be where I need to be for my team – you kind of look forward to the relief when it’s all done.

“Every day you wake up and you’re thinking about the Olympics and every workout you have, every decision you make you think about that dream. It’s very rewarding and the world championships were amazing, but it really is the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life. The reality is now that’s going to last for another year.”

Williams, Valente, White, and Dygert celebrate with the flag after their gold medal ride this winter. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

For Williams, 25, the 12-month delay could be more a blessing, a sentiment shared by Dygert, who had told VeloNews that the postponement would provide vital time to allow the new-look team to bond further. Having only taken to the track for the first time in 2017, Williams began her Olympic preparations as late as 2018, so an extra 12 months would almost double her experience riding on the boards.

“The postponement, while definitely inconvenient – the uncertainty of it is really the hardest part – gives me significantly more time to get ready,” she said. “So I’m not going to say I benefit from this, but I definitely think I have a lot of room to improve at this point.”

With Olympic selection now firmly in their sights, the Rally Cycling teammates are knuckling down to training at the Olympic Training Center. They train alongside junior world omnium champion and fellow Rally Cycling rider Megan Jastrab, also named on the long team.

“Nobody is allowed in that isn’t an essential worker or a resident, so we’re very secluded,” White said of life at the facility in Colorado Springs. “We walk to the cafeteria which has limited people. Normally there are a couple of hundred people staying here at a time and there’s less than ten right now so it’s very secluded, very quiet. It does feel ghostly, but it’s also now starting to feel a little bit more like home which is funny.”

The women’s long track team also includes Dygert, Valente, Christina Birch, Maddie Godby, Mandy Marquardt, and Kendall Ryan.

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