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Judy Freeman Journal: Recapping the worlds

The U.S. mountain biker talks about her performance at the recent world championships in South Africa

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The mountain bike worlds have come and gone. And like all events, it has been measured on a lot of levels, by a lot of viewpoints. Team management may focus on how the U.S. as a whole did; mechanics, if the bikes were in working order on time; the riders on personal performance. For an event like this, the host country will likely weigh in on how the event went and showcased the area. Worlds is a lot of things to a lot of people.

I find people’s responses to their performance interesting — especially if it was below the mark they set for themselves.

How was the ride?

As a rider, I focus on my race. And unfortunately, the subject of my review didn’t go so hot. It had moments though. I had some good laps where I was feeling good, riding strong, and making moves. I easily rode some lines that gave me nightmares last year. And I came home with all my teeth, which was one of the first questions from my mom as she picked me up at the airport.

But overall, the legs showed up late and didn’t stay long for the party. I got pulled one lap to go and finished 36th. I can think of some reasons why, and then I can go from there on what to do for a better performance next time. But at a standalone, invite-only race that comes once a year, all with a fair amount of to-do around it — not to mention this year’s added team selection drama — the bummer was a little more pronounced

Mid-sized stride

I figure I’m middle of the road with how a lot of people take getting upset. Get down on it to some degree but then shake it off and then rally the motivation for the next race. I do my best not to give my list of sad excuses on the course, especially to someone who is stoked on having just performed well. I think everyone at some point has been on the receiving end of that Eyore-esque exchange where you’re feeling good and someone comes up to tell you why they didn’t ‘do well’ — and possibly leave room to suggest they would have finished faster than you if the cycling gremlins hadn’t stolen their prerace meal or something similar. It’s annoying if it doesn’t just go for the full suck-the-wind-out-of-your-sails effect. That said, I know that despite my best intentions I’ve been that donkey on occasion. It happens.

But I’ve met riders that seem to shake it off just after the finish line. I mean, God knows what really goes on for another person, but at least to be able to keep a constant countenance, whether genuine or forced, after a less-than-hoped-for ride is pretty impressive; if not just another expression of good sportsmanship. Aside from that, it’s just a good plan.

Harnessing energy

Not giving your power away to a bummer result and indulging a deflated feeling is just smart. You need your personal power to just live and be happy, let alone race. It doesn’t mean stuffing the emotions away and whitewashing a piece of crap, either. It is being true to your feelings and acknowledging them but keeping the perspective on an even keel, and keeping your faith intact that it will all work out. Then hone your focus on the next race.

But anger, buckets of tears, kicking dirt, and bike shot putting is pretty much putting all your energy into saying, “I don’t believe it’ll ever work out for me.” And thus, your power goes … POOF! Gone. Leaving you to start from an even lower point to pull yourself together for the next round.

The same is true for a good result. Sure you got to celebrate the accomplishments big and small, but giving your power to a good result sets up a quirky foundation that won’t hold much should the results go the other way. (And for 99.99 percent of the population, they always do.)

I spoke with Geoff Kabush from Scott-3Rox after he finished seventh at the Czech Republic World Cup in May. I congratulated him on a solid ride and was surprised at his understated excitement at having finished so well at such a big race. He pretty much said he tried not to get too excited if he did well or too down if the reverse was true. Maybe that’s a part of the reason he’s been a top North American rider for years now.

Practice grasshopper

Anyhow, I’m getting better at this. I was frustrated to get pulled in Pietermaritzburg, but at the end of the day, I know I did the best I could and that was that. You can’t change the past, but you can change how it affects you.

But I did get to walk away knowing I rode lines that scared me last year. I had been visualizing riding this course since January. Some of my goals going in were practically a vendetta.

And then I just had fun — that underrated cliché in the world of competition. During the week, I rode laps with Amanda Sin (also from Scott-3 Rox) and just had a good time riding; dissecting the course, working on finding better, faster lines, and laughing. I followed Sin’s line down the log stairs for the first time and afterward we stopped for high fives. Sharing the conquer buzz with friends ranks pretty much as one of the things I love most in riding.

Finally, I just had to look around at the things I saw, the people I met, and everything I learned by just being there. In 10 years, I’ll likely have forgotten how I rode this weekend, but I won’t forget that was at the world championships in South Africa.

Heartfelt thanks to all the people who helped me get to South Africa. There are so many who helped make it both possible and happily memorable: Crankbrothers and all my sponsors, my family and friends, Team ShoAir, USA Cycling, Chloe Woodruff, Lea Davison, Tom Torrance, and countless others.

Being a competitive cyclist is one thing. Chasing your dreams with the love and support of incredible people is one of the most amazing feelings in the world.