At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing Catharine Pendrel felt so good about her fourth place finish in the mountain bike race she considered it a huge victory. Now as she prepares for London Olympics this summer, fourth place won't come close to cutting it. She's among the favourites to win.
Pendrel has come a long way since 2008, when her goal was a top five finish. She's a world champion and heads to London ranked number one in her sport. She's also among Canada's best hopes for a gold medal.
"I think people really rise to the challenge of the Olympics," Pendrel said Wednesday after being officially named to the Canadian mountain biking team for London along with Emily Batty, Geoff Kabush and Max Plaxton. "I knew that I did rise to the occasion [in 2008] and I hope to do that again this Olympics."
When asked about the pressure of being the rider everyone is gunning for this time, she added: "I think whenever you have expectations on you, I think that can be a huge positive because it means that there's that many people that believe in your and your ability. So I think you need to harness those expectations and turn it into confidence and that's what I plan to do going into London."
Pendrel's rise up the ranks of mountain biking has been a remarkably steady progression. She picked up the sport seriously in 2003, after moving to the University of Victoria from her home in New Brunswick. She joined a local club mainly to meet other cyclists and she had to bug then club coach Dan Proulx to let her stay on the team.
"I didn't see it in her at first," said Proulx who now coaches the national team. "It took a lot of persistent and a lot of work over time. She kind of had to bug me a bit to get me to coach her at first. And luckily it all worked out."
It wasn't long before Pendrel started winning races consistently, taking a silver at the 2006 Pan American bike championship, gold at the 2007 Pan Am Games, fourth at the 2008 Olympics, winning the world cup championship in 2010 and becoming world champion in 2011.
"Every year I saw that I was more capable and I just kept striving for higher and higher goals," said Pendrel who also met her husband, Keith Wilson, at the U Vic cycling club.
Mountain biking itself has come a long way in Canada. In addition to Pendrel's top ranking, Batty is ranked 15th in the world by the International Cycling Union and Marie-Hélène Prémont 20th, making Canada the top country for women's mountain biking. On the men's side, Kabush is ranked 28th and Plaxton 40th.
Heading into the London Games, Pendrel said she is fitter than in 2008 and more race savvy. Tactics are everything in mountain biking and finishing time is largely irrelevant. "I think I'm a better student of the sport so I am looking for all the little games," she said. "I think in every aspect of riding I'm trying to find those little gains."
The course in London is expected to be fast because it is almost entirely man made, as opposed to other events which use natural surroundings. It's also more open and close to the ocean, which means wind could be a factor. Only 30 riders will be competing in the women's event (Canada was allowed two entries) and they will cover a 4.5 kilometre loop six times.
"Six or more women capable of the win on the day," said Pendrel. "So we all have to bring our A game."