Cycling: Hansen back on the bike for Rio

By David Leggat

Natasha Hansen. Photo / Dianne Manson
Natasha Hansen. Photo / Dianne Manson

How about a feelgood Olympic selection story.

With the countdown to Rio now in full swing, sports team namings are in full swing. This week it was the initial track cycling sprint team.

Three of the four names were locks to be chosen - the two-time men's world champion team sprint trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins.

The fourth had made herself a straightforward selection, Natasha Hansen.

But Hansen's is a nice story of determination to make up for a lost opportunity four years ago.

Hansen, originally from Christchurch, had been an air traffic controller in Southland before moving to Cambridge to work on her discipline at the high performance HQ at the Avantidrome.

Go back four years. Hansen had won selection in the London Games team. About six weeks before the Games, one of her closest friends, Nicola Stock, died of cancer.

It was a traumatic time for an athlete trying to get herself to optimum performance level while battling on an emotional level to move beyond a grieving phase.

London's Games were a disappointment, and in hindsight probably no great surprise.

Hansen knew she needed a break, so she dropped out of cycling altogether for a time. Whether she would come back wasn't clear at the time.

However, to make a distinction, she maintained she never lost the will to fight her way back. Whether she'd be successful was another matter.

Rio was always in the back of her mind but as she remarked late last year "it's only natural to have down times when you think, 'No, I'm not going to get back'."

But Hansen plugged away and forced her way back into the national squad.

She combined with Katie Schofield to break the New Zealand team sprint record, in finishing fourth overall, at a World Cup meeting in Cali, Colombia early last year.

Fast forward to the world track championships in London last month.

Hansen, who has been in a battle for selection with Steph McKenzie, who has ridden at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and Schofield, stepped up with a fifth placing in the individual sprint. More than sufficient to make her an early naming for Rio.

What that did was remove any uncertainty for 26-year-old Hansen that she had done enough to be there. Another rider to form a sprint team with Hansen is under consideration.

Hansen has made significant strides under sprint coach Anthony Peden. She shapes as a realistic chance to make the podium in Rio, but in a sense that's almost beside the point.

Hansen has won a battle with herself, got back on her bike, determined to show there is more to her as a top international athlete than she'd shown at London. You'd wish her well.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 26 Feb 2017 10:07:41 Processing Time: 605ms