Fri, September 20, 2013

Cyclist Sullivan ready for Olympic races

By SCOTT MITCHELL, QMI Agency

CALGARY - Monique Sullivan is ready to be overwhelmed.

But after navigating a gruelling 18-month qualification process, Sullivan isn't sweating taking to the London velodrome in the women's keirin and sprint events this weekend. Lunch, however, is a different story altogether.

"Even just going to the dining hall that seats 5,000 people (in the Olympic village), just eating breakfast is going to be overwhelming," Sullivan said with a laugh of her first Olympic experience in a city of nearly 13 million people.

It's been a long time coming for the 23-year-old Calgary cyclist.

Sullivan picked up the sport at the age of 12 thanks to a cycling camp for kids at the Olympic Oval, and she's been making incremental improvements ever since.

"It's been on my radar for a long time and it sort of slowly became more and more of a reality as I improved and kept working towards it," the William Aberhart High School graduate said of the Olympics.

As this country's only female sprinter, when Canada nailed down a spot in early May, Sullivan knew she was London-bound after her double-gold performance at the Pan American Cycling Championships in Argentina back in March.

"I was almost scared to believe it because it was so long coming," Sullivan said. "Then I would catch myself daydreaming about it and smiling over nothing. It was really cool to realize I had been selected."

While some athletes were forced to go through Olympic trials and qualifying races leading right up to the games, Sullivan got a well-deserved break from competition and was able to focus on training and the mental side of the sport for a couple months.

"Absolutely, I felt really lucky to not have to do trials," said Sullivan, who will move from the track to the classroom this fall to start her engineering degree at the University of Calgary.

While it's hard to tout any of the green Canadian track cyclists as medal favourites -- of the seven-member team made up of five women and two men, only Zach Bell has previous Olympic experience -- Sullivan sees a tonne of potential.

Canada sent only three riders to Beijing in 2008, none of whom finished near the podium.

"Now, we have a full team with some support and we have an atmosphere of a team," Sullivan said of the 2012 team. "We can lean on each other and support each other.

"It was really exciting when things started coming together. We've come a long way in the last four years."

Sullivan will hit the velodrome track Friday in the women's keirin and Sunday in the women's sprint.

She's been focusing on the keirin, an eight-lap race that uses a pace vehicle for the first five and a half laps, before giving away to the madness.

"Then the battle begins," Sullivan said simply.

It's a battle that evens the playing field and can leave the pre-event podium favourites out in the cold.

"It's a real bike race," Sullivan said. "Anything can happen and it's pretty short. You don't really get second chances if you make a mistake. There are no guarantees. You can be the strongest (rider) and still mess it up.

"I'm just hoping to get in there and be really aware and relaxed and execute a good race. It that happens, I think I can get a good result."

Could a good result turn into a great result?

"I think that on a perfect day I could bring home a medal," Sullivan said.

scott.mitchell@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNMitchell