Olympic experience on the bike
Sammie Maxwell may have destroyed her road bike at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, but the Tauhara College 16 year old says despite hitting barriers at a speed of 46.8km/hr in her last race, the whole experience was “awesome”.
Sammie, 16, finished eighth overall out of 20 in her women’s cycling field at the Youth Olympics earlier this month and says she is “stoked” with how she performed. It was her first big international outing and she was the youngest competitor in her division with some of the other riders up to two years older.
“It was just an amazing experience. Meeting all the other athletes it’s so humbling just to see how hard everyone has worked to get there and the fact that you are fitting in with all these people is such an amazing feeling.”
Sammie was one of two young women (the other female mountain biker was Phoebe Young of Wanaka) and two males who went with the New Zealand combined cycling team to Buenos Aires. Although Sammie is a specialist mountain biker and has also branched out into cyclocross and road cycling as part of her training, the event was quite different from the races she normally competes in and was primarily road-based.
It was made up of a series of different events, beginning with a team time trial, followed by a road race, then a short eliminator mountain bike, and then a short course mountain bike. The last event was a criterium race.
“Even the mountain biking wasn’t mountain biking,” Sammie explains. “The Games did what they could with the village and the venues they were given but in the middle of a city you’re not going to find big mountains and hills and off-road [tracks]. You’ve just got a local park and you’ve got to try and make do.
“The courses definitely weren’t suited to me. I prefer hills and there was no elevation gain in any of our races. I came away being able to hold my own against girls that specialise in flat rides and consistent power for 20 minutes whereas I specialise in hills and on-off power and technical skills”
Sammie finished in the top 10 of the mountain biking events and was in contention in the road racing. She crashed in the road race but still completed, but another, more spectacular crash into a set of barriers in the last event, the criterium, really did some damage. She came home sporting bruises and grazes but came off relatively lightly — her road bike was so badly damaged it will have to be replaced.
“When I crashed I was going 46.8km/h so I’m pretty okay with the bike taking the impact.”
Sammie said she came away from the Youth Olympics knowing that she was doing what she needed to do to be a specialist mountain biker. To hold her own at the Games in events that were not her specialty was “pretty cool”.
She only had 10 weeks’ notice of her selection but her coach Alex Fierro designed “a pretty full-on” racing block leading into her departure for the Games.
While Sammie had to meet the cost of the trip herself, which came to about $7000, she was grateful for the support of the Taupo¯ Cycling Club, Taupo¯ Half Marathon Trust, the Taupo¯ District Sports Advisory Council, and Tauhara College, which all contributed. Insurance will cover the cost of her wrecked road bike.
Her next event is the 60km Huka Steamer at the BDO Lake Taupo¯ Cycle Challenge and after she will begin ramping up for the Altherm Window Systems Mountain Bike Nationals Championships in Rotorua in March. After that, she is looking at more international events with a goal of achieving a top 10 placing in the World Championships at Mt St Anne in Canada in October 2019.
In the meantime though, Sammie’s next priority is her level 2 NCEA exams in calculus, English, biology, physics, chemistry and sport science which begin this month.
She says she took away from the experience was knowing what it takes to be a professional athlete.
“You just have to keep working at it, keep working hard. It’s not a big mysterious special thing, there’s no secret exercises or anything, you just have to work hard.”
Sammie Maxwell, 16, competing in the combined cycling event at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.