BERLIN, Germany (VN) — The team pursuit is a four-rider event, but USA Cycling was racing with five Thursday as it powered to the world title ahead of the 2020 Olympic games.
The team’s dominant victory against archrival Great Britain was the best way teammates could pay tribute to Kelly Catlin, who died by suicide in March.
The Americans raced aggressively in the finals, jumping out to a sizable lead on Great Britain through the opening half. Great Britain lost a rider as Team USA held all four riders at the event’s midpoint.
As Williams faded off the back in the final push to the line, Dygert pedaled to the front and took a long pull, with Valente and White on her wheel.
Team USA crossed the line 1.8 seconds ahead of Great Britain—a sizable margin in a race often decided by tenths of a second. The team’s winning time was 4:11.235.
Riders and staffers celebrated the team’s milestone victory just months ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Everyone circled arms after the dramatic win, and dedicated the gold medal to their absent teammate.
“It’s our first world championships since Kelly, so to win here is very special,” said Chloe Dygert, the team’s anchor. “To win here for her, it means a lot, and it’s very emotional. We had her in our hearts the whole time.”
Catlin died in March, leaving the team devastated in the wake of the tragedy. Friends, teammates and coaches grieved for weeks and months in the aftermath, but collectively decided the best way to celebrate her life was to press forward.
Dygert and Jennifer Valente, members of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro who raced with Catlin to the silver-medal, vowed to compete in her name. Team staffers and coaches searched out new riders to work into the team, with Lily Williams and Emma White being recruited to the team. Everyone agreed; the best way to move forward was to keep racing.
Coming into Berlin, the team not only had pressure to perform in the last major international competition before Tokyo, but also to execute under the emotional strain.
After working all winter toward Berlin, including more than a month of intense sessions on the boards starting in January, the team brought professional efficiency to dismantling their rivals. They didn’t forget Catlin.
“We have stickers on our bikes with the letters ‘KC,” White said. “We think about her all the time.”
Thursday’s world title was a joyful release after months of suffering both on and off the bike.
Head coach Gary Sutton was especially moved Thursday. Hours after the race, the legendary Australian track coach, who joined the American team in 2018, was overwhelmed with emotion.
“She just meant so much to everyone inside this team,” Sutton said. “The way the team came together to win here today in the way they did says so much about everyone in this organization. I couldn’t be prouder.”
The team pursuit squad now will take a step back from full-time training as the riders prepare for Tokyo. Dygert and Valente will race the road over the next several months, while the others will take a short break and then hit the boards again to further hone their track skills before Tokyo.
The team will regroup this summer, and begin the final run toward the ultimate goal of winning the gold medal. And they will again be racing with five.
“We don’t talk about it every day,” Dygert said. “When there is something going on that reminds us of Kelly, we’re not afraid to talk about it – there’s jokes, there’s everything. Kelly’s here, Kelly’s with us all the time.”