Bryony Botha has a vivid memory of when competing at the Olympics first really hit home for her.
The Auckland track cyclist is a key part of the New Zealand women’s pursuit squad, currently ranked third in the world and shaping as a strong prospect of being in Tokyo for the Games next year.
The field is restricted to the top eight nations and while much can happen in the rest of the qualifying period, New Zealand, under the new coaching regime of Ross Machejefski and Alex Greenfield, are tracking in the right direction.
When Botha was 12, she and her family were on holiday in Greece.
‘’They took me to the Olympic village (from the 2004 Games) and we went into the athletic stadium and I got to run on the track. I thought ‘oh my God, this could be me running on the track’.
‘’Little did we know it would be a different type of track,’’ she laughed.
The 21-year-old’s fondness for cycling came from her father Feyes, who coached her in her initial cycling years.
She had tried her hand at triathlon but ‘’realised I wasn’t very good at swimming or running but on the cycling legs I was catching everybody. When I got to high school I thought I’d just focus on one not all three.’’
Botha is a team sports player. So while she enjoys the individual pursuit -- and finished fifth at the world championships in Pruszkow, Poland early this year -- it’s being part of the team pursuit collective which give her the biggest buzz.
‘’I’ve always been into team sports. It feels really good when you’d got someone there to back you up. And it nice to do something with friends.’’
Her career highpoint so far came in 2015 when Botha teamed up with Michaela Drummond, Holly White and Madeline Park to win the world junior championship TP in a world record time in Kazakhstan.
‘’It was definitely a surprise. We went in thinking that we could medal. But the competition wasn’t as strong as we thought it was going to be and it just happened,’’ Botha said.
The pursuiters, silver medallists at the Commonwealth Games last year, have just come to the end of a three-month training block in Europe, one month each in Belgium, Italy and Switzerland.
Last year’s world champs campaign didn’t go as well as the riders had hoped, but they have made significant gains this year and that showed in winning bronze at the worlds.
‘’We’ve really worked on the team culture since the new coaches took over. We don’t look at it as a bunch of individuals who get together but as team mates and friends,’’ Botha said.
The former Rangitoto College student is preparing for a tough preparation to secure firstly New Zealand’s place in the Olympic field, and then get herself there.
There are the Oceania championships in Invercargill in October, then World Cup meets in Cambridge and Brisbane in November-December along with a pile of other various events aimed at getting the best out of the riders.
Off the bike, Botha is doing two papers through Waikato University, psychology and marketing.
‘’I really enjoy studying just because it helps fill my day out, otherwise I’d be sitting round watching Netflix,’’ she quipped.
As for what getting to the Games would mean, Botha is emphatic: ‘’I have always been a sporty child and it’s been my goal to go to the Olympics since I was young. I first wanted to go for athletics, then netball (not an Olympic sport) but it would be like a childhood dream.’’
Botha admits her mind often drifts towards the Olympics. When people ask her if she’s going to Tokyo, she says her answer is ‘’no, but I hope to. You try to be humble because anything could happen between now and then’’.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games Bryony Botha Cycling - Track