6 July 2021

Canberra cyclists experience the highs and lows of Olympic selection

| Tim Gavel
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Rebecca McConnell

The Tokyo Olympics will be Rebecca McConnell’s third. Photo: Rebecca McConnell Facebook.

Rebecca McConnell has been riding the mountain ranges and hills around Canberra for as long as she can remember.

At 158 centimetres and weighing just 49 kilos, Bec resembles a pocket rocket as she hurtles down Mount Stromlo on a mountain bike.

She has emerged in recent years as one of the world’s top competitors in mountain bike cross country, winning bronze at the past two world championships.

But 2018 was a write-off as she battled illness and exhaustion.

Now, after winning selection in the Australian team for her third Olympics, she is fine-tuning her preparation with a series of races in Europe.

On the weekend she finished second in a race in Italy.

Rebecca and Dan McConnell

Rebecca and Dan McConnell. Photo: Georgina von Marburg.

Husband Dan McConnell has also been selected for his fourth Olympics. Together Bec and Dan make up the Australian Mountain Bike Team for the Tokyo Olympics.

Dan becomes the first Australian to compete in four Olympics in the mountain bike competition, while Bec is the first woman to compete in three Olympics in mountain biking.

READ MORE Canberra contingent up against nation’s best off-road cyclists at Stromlo

But for every wonderful moment, there is often a hard luck story.

Canberra’s eight-time world champion in BMX and mountain biking, Caroline Buchanan, did everything humanly possible to secure a place on the Australian team for her third Olympics in Tokyo.

Caroline Buchanan

Caroline Buchanan has experienced many highs and lows of sport. Photo: Graeme Murray @graememurraynz.

She virtually rebuilt her body following a horrendous off-road buggy crash near Cooma towards the end of 2017.

The injuries included a broken sternum, two punctured lungs and a puncture of the heart wall lining. Her sternum alone required three surgeries including a reconstruction. In total, it took her two-and-a-half years to get back to full fitness.

On reflection, she was lucky to be alive let alone a contender for selection for the postponed Olympics. The postponement did, however, improve her chances. Last year she was still on the comeback trail from injuries. With little competition under her belt, she would have struggled.

READ ALSO Caroline Buchanan gets back on the bike for one last shot at Olympic glory

The postponement provided a window of opportunity. Caroline left nothing to chance in a bid to secure a berth on the Australian team in the BMX for Tokyo. As part of her work towards selection, Caroline self-funded her campaign, which included heading to Italy for a series of world cups.

In the end, she fell short of winning a place on the team. Her public response to the non-selection has been graceful.

On Twitter she said, “Over the past five years I strived to qualify for my third Olympics in Tokyo. Sadly, I haven’t been chosen by the selection panel. I’ll be cheering along all our cycling team.”

READ ALSO Steven Kent shelves retirement plans to go around again with Canberra Cavalry

The Olympics have been omnipresent in Caroline’s life and at times the greatest source of heart-break. In 2008 she was too young to compete. In 2012 she went into the Olympics as the number one ranked rider in the world. In 2016, heading into Rio, she was ranked second in the world. On both occasions, she missed out.

Caroline indicated before the announcement of the Tokyo team that this would be her BMX swan song with the focus now on returning to mountain biking full-time.

The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to run from 23 July to 8 August 2021.

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