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JOANNA ROWSELL SHAND: GOLDEN RIO JOURNEY

Wow what a whirlwind the last 10 days have been! I am back home now following a successful trip to Rio which brought with it 3 World Record rides and an Olympic gold medal.

We travelled to Rio a week before our race which was plenty of time to get used to life in the athletes village and train on the brand new velodrome in the Rio Olympic park. There had been a lot of talk of the velodrome not being ready in time but the brand new wooden track was beautiful and smooth to ride on and we soon got the hang of team pursuit changes on the slightly more oval shaped track compared to London.

It felt like we had been there ages before race day finally arrived. We were off third from last due to our 3rd place finish at the recent World Championships which would mean we wouldn’t see the times of the top 2 ranked teams. We rode to a schedule for a 4:14.0 and we beat this with a time of 4:13.2 and a new World Record by a few tenths of a second. I have to admit this new WR time wasn’t entirely a surprise as we had been posting fast times in training but it is always good for it to come together on race day. However we then had a nervous wait as the remaining two teams from Canada and the World Champions USA rode their qualifying rides following us. Canada rode well until the last few laps when they slowed and finished with a time of 4:19. USA however went out like a bullet and were beating our time until just a couple of laps to go, when they eventually finished with a full second slower than us. Good news we qualified fastest, but were USA holding back? Or was that them going full gas? Either way it wasn’t a huge gap and all still to play for in the finals!

A unique aspect of the Rio Olympic schedule was a day in between qualifying rides and the finals. I’ve never experienced this before as we usually have our races on back to back days or even all three rides on the same day in World Cup competitions. This meant a full day to fill before we were back on the boards. For me I did two short sessions on the bike to keep my legs activated and also spent some time watching TV and listening to music to keep my mind distracted from over-thinking team pursuit splits.

The next day of racing finally came around and interestingly the USA broke our WR in their semi-final ride by a second. However we were up against Canada straight after and responded by taking it right back by just 1 tenth of a second!

We went into the final Gold medal ride-off against USA and on paper we looked closely matched – it was built up to be an incredibly nail biting final. However in the GB camp we were quietly confidant as we knew we had more to give and each ride we were just feeling stronger.

In the gold medal ride off the USA started quicker and got their nose in front. We didn’t panic as we all have enough experience to know a lot can change in 4km. I rode a bigger gear for the final but I could tell we were riding fast as I could feel my legs spinning away. However we were all amazed to look up at the finish and see a World Record time of 4:10.2 and beating the Americans by more than 2s!

The next few minutes are a bit of a blur but I remember making my way up the track to the friends and family section for hugs. At some point we ended up sitting down on the track – our legs finally giving away after the monumental effort. Many media interviews followed, I’ve no idea if I made much sense, and then we were ushered away to get ready for the podium.

People always ask me how it feels standing on the top of the Olympic podium – but it’s hard to describe, there simply are no words that can explain accurately the feelings and emotions of that moment. I spent the time trying to take everything in – looking around at the crowd and all the Union Jack’s literally plastered around the track, and proudly listening to the National anthem.

I flew back from the Games before the closing ceremony in order to be with my family for the celebrations. After being picked up from the airport by my husband Dan, first stop was my parent’s house for a welcome home party with the entire family plus half the residents on the street. Then I travelled down to London with my husband where I went on Sunday Brunch and then Lorraine on Monday morning. My feet have barely touched the ground but I am relishing the amazing public response to Team GB’s success in Rio.

For now I am enjoying a good break from the bike but not from sport as a whole – in September I am off to Club la Santa for a holiday and very much looking forward to trying out some of the many different sports I’m not usually able to do. I have my eye on the mini triathlon particularly! I’ve always wanted to try a triathlon so why not?! Will keep you updated with how I get on.
Joanna

Date Posted: 24th August 2016

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