As the country's youngest female air traffic controller, Natasha Hansen is used to watching aircraft come and go.

There is one plane, however, she is itching to get on - the one bound for London in July.

New Zealand's top female track sprint cyclist is making a late dash to be in the New Zealand Olympic team. It seemed an unlikely proposition even six months ago but Hansen, along with fellow sprinter Katie Schofield, have made such rapid progression in recent times they are figuring in the minds of selectors. Their progress has been even more rapid than that achieved by their male counterparts, who have emerged as real threats in world sprinting.

Hansen picked up three Oceania titles in October (keirin, 500m time trial and the team's sprint with Schofield), which confirmed to BikeNZ they needed to pump more resources into the women's sprinting programme, and the pair have since exceeded every target put in front of them.


This weekend they need to show more improvement at the national track cycling championship in Invercargill to earn selection to the upcoming World Cup meeting in London. If they earn enough points there, it's likely the New Zealand selectors will send a women's sprinting team to the Olympics.

It wasn't originally supposed to be about London. Like the men's programme, the initial plan was to target a medal at Rio in 2016.

"We definitely believe we can be a dominant sprint nation by 2016,'' national sprint coach Justin Grace said. "We are developing the women's team to be medallists in 2016.''

Hansen doesn't think this is ambitious enough.

"I think that if we qualify for the coming Olympics,'' she explains, "I know that in six months we will make massive gains and I truly believe we have the potential to medal also. If we continue on the path we are going on, there's no reason why we can't.''

Crucially, like the men's team, there are others pushing both Hansen and Schofield along, including Steph McKenzie, Henrietta Mitchell and Paige Patterson, but it would take something special to unseat the established pair.

Hansen is hoping to add another five national titles to the 15 she has already won, including a fifth-straight individual sprinting title.

With a handful of New Zealand's top riders missing from the national championships, the outcomes of the men's and women's sprints will be some of the most keenly followed. The four top male sprinters are all contesting for what could be three spots in London and will want to outdo each other.


Simon van Velthooven has even transferred to Auckland to ride with fellow Olympic hopefuls Ethan Mitchell and Sam Webster to prove to the selectors he should be third wheel in the team's sprint at London.

Hansen also wants to catch the eye.

The 22-year-old rather fell into the sport as a teenager as she looked to find another way to keep fit. She had been selected in the Canterbury Flames netball training squad while in the fourth form at school but found immediate success in her second sport. She placed fifth in the keirin at the junior world championships and realised track cycling was her "calling''.

She gave up competitive cycling in 2009, however, because of the lack of a women's sprint programme and switched her attentions instead on qualifying to be an air traffic controller. Hansen always hoped to get back into the sport and a transfer to Invercargill, where the New Zealand track riders are based, was the perfect answer.

Invercargill airport is hardly the busiest in the world, but it still requires Hansen to be sharp and it's a good distraction from cycling.

"It's perfect,'' she says. "I go to work and have to switch on but when I leave I don't take anything with me. As soon as I leave the tower, I don't think about it and vice versa. The thing with cycling is you need to be really alert and also tactical and with my job I'm constantly being mentally stimulated. It compliments each other.''

The ultimate proof will unfold in the next six months.