By Andrew Hood
Sarah Hammer burst onto the international scene last year with her breakthrough gold medal in the women’s individual pursuit. It was a surprise to everyone except Hammer, who was quietly confident she could mine the first U.S. gold medal in a decade and calmly delivered the goods.
The 23-year-old no longer enjoys the benefit of being the unknown American and will be in the crosshairs this weekend as she takes aim for two gold medals, first in the pursuit on Friday and the points race on Sunday.
VeloNews.com sat down with Hammer after her Thursday afternoon training session on the track to discuss her progress from last year and how she’s taking aim at the 2008 Olympic Summer Games. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VN.com: What’s your impression of this track, it’s a new facility and some people are saying it’s really fast?
Sarah Hammer: I don’t know if it’s so much the track, because it’s not even finished yet. The reason why I think it’s so fast is that they have the heat cranked up in here. It’s hot in here; that makes a big difference. If it’s the same temperature tomorrow, it will make for a fast day. When it’s hotter, it makes the air less dense, you cut through it faster.
VeloNews.com: How are these boards riding? They say they haven’t even been completely sanded yet?
SH: The facility is awesome, but the track isn’t finished yet. Some of the boards are uneven, so everyone is in the same boat, especially in the pursuit when everyone is riding the same exact line. It is what it is. It’s a fast track and an amazing facility, one of the best I’ve seen. I really like it here and I’ve enjoyed our time here so far.
VN.com: How is your condition right now coming into the world championships?
SH: Good, right on track, I couldn’t be happier with how the form is. We’ll see how everyone else’s form is tomorrow, but hopefully I can qualify one or two in the morning and then bring home the gold tomorrow night.
VN.com: How are you dealing with the added pressure of being defending champion? Last year, you were kind of an unknown factor but now everyone is gunning for you?
SH: There is more pressure. Last year, they knew who I was, but I wasn’t a big favorite, even though I came in knowing that I could win and I was telling people, watch me because I can win this, whereas now the eyes are on me. I couldn’t say it’s good or bad, it’s just a different feeling. I’m a different rider than I was a year ago. I’m more complete in every aspect, more experienced. I am more equipped to handle it, but it doesn’t make that much of a difference.
VN.com: What changes have you made since winning the world title last year?
SH: After we won, I said we still have some more in more, because I am still getting fit from taking all that time off. Last year, a three-hour would be a long ride, now I need much more than that. My body can handle a much bigger load. I can handle more of load in training. Just having the experience of knowing what I am coming into, that helps. I am actually a bit calmer than last year, try not to worry about it too much before the race. What am I cam going to do about it until the day of? If I get nervous, I try to change my train of thought.
VN.com: You have a chance of winning two gold medals this weekend, how do you see your chances?
SH: It could happen, you never know in the points race. I’d like to win it, I’d be happy with a medal, too. I just want to keep seeing improvement in the points race. I have the speed, I have the endurance, I just need to learn the race a little bit more. What I am trying to do is improve every time. Could I win? Absolutely. Could 10 other girls win? Absolutely. It is awesome this year because last year, after the pursuit, the points race was the next day. I was just trashed, mentally and physically. I was just a wreck. It was hard last year, after winning, my mind was just berserk. It was hard lining up the next day, the legs weren’t there and the head was still in a jumble. It’s nice this year having that scratch race the next day, which I’m not in, so I get time to re-set. Right now, I’m not thinking about the points race at all. On Saturday, that’s when we’ll start thinking about that.
VN.com: How big was the gold medal for you in terms of your confidence?
SH: That was huge. I came into that, saying that I am going to win. My mind was already there. Just the feeling of it, it was amazing. I will always have that, no matter what happens from here on out. That’s a great thing to have, that confidence and experience as I try to win more world titles in the years to come. I know what it takes on race day. In the final last year, she came back strong and I didn’t crack, because it’s easy to crack. I was hurting, I was dying, but you get through it. It’s all in your mind at that point. Everyone’s legs are fried.
VN.com: Obviously the Olympics will be a big goal, what are you thinking about looking ahead to Beijing?
SH: That’s the main game for everyone right now. These are just building blocks building up to it. Each time you can put yourself on the line and have that feeling, those are good experiences to learn from. You want that pressure on your back. I know there’s nothing like it. I’ve never been to the Olympics, but I know it’s going to be totally different. That’s always on the back of my mind, but right now I am focusing on winning that world title tomorrow.