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Katerina Nash must have dreamed of the Olympics, growing up as a star athlete, attending a sports academy in the Czech Republic. But she probably didn’t picture her debut at the Summer Games.
Instead, the 18-year-old found herself in the start grid on a steamy day in Atlanta, perhaps as far as possible from the snow-packed tracks she trained on as a cross-country ski prodigy.
“I just happened to kind of pick up a mountain bike maybe two years before that and just did it as a fun summer off-season training,” Nash says. “I really enjoyed the sport. So when the opportunity came up to try to qualify for the Olympics I was like, ‘Yeah why not, I’ll just give it a try.”
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In that first Olympics — for her and mountain biking alike — she was 19th out of 27, about 13 minutes behind Italian winner Paola Pezzo. “Atlanta was absolutely overwhelming for me,” Nash adds.
But just as quick as she’d flitted into mountain biking, at arguably the sport’s most pivotal moment in the modern era, Nash returned to the snow. She skied in the 1998 Nagano games as well as the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Later that year, she signed with Luna and rededicated herself to pro mountain bike racing.
If it’s not clear by now, Nash likes to play the long game. Her greatest successes as a cyclist have come in the last five years or so, and they include a bronze at 2011 cyclocross world championships, a win at the 2013 mountain bike World Cup round in Mont Sainte-Anne, Canada, and a victory at the famous Namur venue of the cyclocross World Cup.
On August 20, Katerina Nash will toe the line at the Olympics for the 11th time, counting the multiple ski races she started in her two appearances at the winter Games. Perhaps the only rider in the field who can match Nash’s depth of experience is Gunn-Rita Dahle, a gold medalist in Athens and a competitor in every Olympics MTB race except Sydney. Nash doesn’t have her Norwegian competitor’s extensive palmares — few do — but she’s made the most of her Olympic experience in other ways.
“I always go back to watching the [semi-] final ice hockey game in Nagano where Czech Republic played against Russia. I don’t know, something about watching hockey at the stadium,” she says, recalling her favorite Olympics moment. “Such a big event, to be around the team and traveling back to Europe.”
Nash also counts the 2012 London games as a favorite moment. Not because her race was exceptional — on the contrary, she calls it a “rough day” — but because her Luna teammate and friend, Georgia Gould, won bronze. ”Just hugging her at the finish was amazing.”
After winning the Boston Rebellion XCT on July 30 and riding to fifth in the Mont Sainte-Anne World Cup Sunday, there’s a chance that maybe this 39-year-old Olympics veteran will be on the receiving end of a joyful hug in Rio.