On her personal website, Shelley Olds eloquently writes that she is “always searching for that unequivocal high that comes from victory in sport,” and that “there is nothing that makes me happier than finishing a race and exceeding my own expectations.”
In six short days, Olds’ dream will become reality in the form of one ride of a lifetime.
Arriving in London on Monday, Olds, 31, is set to represent the United States in the 30th Summer Olympics, pedaling as part of a four-member women’s cycling squad that will chase down gold in the 140 kilometer (87 miles) road course event Sunday.
“Finally, now, I am realizing that it is really going to happen. I am going to the Olympics and I will be representing my country in the most prestigious athletic competition in the world,” wrote via email last week from her home in Spain, where she now lives full time.
In late 2011, Olds made the U.S. Olympic Team short list for cycling. It was her and 12 other cyclists vying for four coveted spots.
Olds overcame a broken wrist in March and went on to have a stellar 2012 road course season, which included a World Cup of China win at the Tour of Chongming Island. Her year hit epic proportions last month when she was selected to Team USA.
“At first I was shocked that my childhood dream is actually going to be a reality,” Olds said. “In the last weeks I have started to get really excited. I think about the race a lot and how I can be my best there. Now I am just really hungry to seize the opportunity that I have been given and make the most of it.”
The “most of it,” Olds said, would be of course topping the podium.
“I am not going to London for the experience,” Olds said. “I want to accomplish my goal and win a medal for my country.”
Olds grew up in Groton, Mass. and is a former college soccer player with an inherent and insatiable appetite for competition. She began cycling in 2005 when her knees wouldn’t allow her to play soccer anymore. Cycling became the sport that fueled her competitive edge and quenched her passion. Her parents moved to Gilroy in 2000. Familiar with the area, Olds, who relocated to the Bay Area from Roanoke, Virginia in 2003, honed her skills on the back roads of Gilroy.
Knowing the 2012 season was crucial in her quest for London, Olds took advantage of the ideal weather conditions as well as the varied terrain of South County and Hollister and embarked on daily two-to-six hour training sessions.
“It’s an excellent place for training,” Olds said back in January. “You have all types of terrain to choose from, everything from big mountains to flat ground.”
She will encounter much of that in London on the road course that is vividly described on the official Olympics website. The 87-mile journey takes riders across the River Thames at Putney Bridge and, among other picturesque pieces of London land, on a “challenging” loop around Box Hill.
Olds and Team USA have one shot at the gold medal. There are no qualifying heats. It just a single race for Olympic glory.
“I have spent several weeks training at altitude and working hard at specific training for my event,” said Olds, whose specific job on the team is as the sprinter, relegating her as the anchor of sorts as the team, which will navigate the course together, makes its push for the finish line. “Because it is a one day event, I am focused on working intensity and volume and then recovering from each hard day. I want to make sure the work is done but also that I am recovering well.”
Olds had one final race leading up to London. She participated in the women’s Giro d’ Italia – a nine-day stage race in Italy that ended on July 7th.
“I was able to get some excellent training and practice sprinting against my biggest rivals from the other countries,” Olds recapped. “It was the perfect training race and I was able to get one stage victory, which was a season-goal so I was very happy.”
Because the road race is just two days into Olympic action, Olds and her teammates will not be at the Opening Ceremonies on Friday night. Instead, Olds will be steadfastly dialed in on the task at hand.
“We, as cyclists, racing just two days after the Opening Ceremonies, are advised not to go. It is a lot of standing around and its not good for the legs,” Olds said. “I have to focus on my race and make sure I am as rested and ready as possible for the day of competition.”
NOTE: The road race event will take place at 4 a.m. in PDT and Noon or 12 p.m. in London. For more information visit nbcolympics.com or london2012.com.