When Catharine Pendrel arrived at the Olympics in London she was one of Canada's great medal favourites. And with good reason. She was the reigning world champion in mountain biking, had won three World Cup races coming into the Games and trounced the field in a warm-up event on the Olympic course a year earlier.
She'd been so remarkably consistent that just about everyone picked her to win the gold.
But from the moment the race started, Pendrel could barely keep up. When other racers began passing her, Pendrel did something she'd never done before – she panicked. She pushed to stay with the front runners but only wasted energy and fell back even more. She placed ninth, 3 minutes 36 seconds behind the winner, Julie Bresset of France. After the race she choked back tears and apologized to her family and friends.
She still hasn't fully recovered. "I've spent a lot of time looking back at that and thinking about it," Pendrel said in a recent interview from Vancouver. "You think about it for sure because it's still relatively fresh and because so much of my life is about cycling it's hard not to think about that."
As for what went wrong, that remains a mystery. At first she thought there might be something wrong with her body and she went through a battery of blood tests. When the tests found nothing amiss, she took a short break and began training for the world championship in early September, hoping to regain her form. Instead she finished 15th.
Pendrel now believes her problems involved overtraining and not handling the pressure leading up to the Games. She blames no one but herself. "I was healthy and I was fast. I just wasn't as fast as I needed to be. I just reached a point where I just wasn't getting faster."
She has reviewed her training regime from the last year and noted that she didn't take advantage of rest periods and instead kept training. "I just kept a high mental focus and high physical form probably too long," she said. "It would have been okay if I had maybe taken the rest that I needed to, mental and physical. But there were times when I planned a rest week but then I was frustrated because I didn't ride very well in a race so it was like I wanted to go work on that. … I feel like I stopped improving in my form in about the beginning of June."
Pendrel said he has learned her lesson and plans to take a longer break before the season starts again in March. "Typically I don't take much of a break. But now, in order to have the right mindset to be able to push myself hard in training, I need to back it off for a bit," she said.
That will include downtime with her husband, Keith Wilson, and some skiing, running and gym work.
And soon she'll start thinking about 2016 and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her team, Luna Chix, has signed her to another four-year contract taking her through to the next Games when she'll be 36.
"I'm going to give myself a little time to relax about this whole Olympic thing before I start thinking too much about it," she said.