Two proven performers and two newcomers have been included in the latest four riders to join the New Zealand cycling team for the London Olympic Games.
Beijing Olympians Sarah Walker and Marc Willers were today named along with Taurangas Kurt Pickard in the BMX team for London while Whakatanes Karen Hanlen will be the sole representative cross-country mountain bike representative.
New Zealand Olympic Committee secretary general and selector Kereyn Smith says the road to the games has been challenging for the athletes selected today. Its been a tough road for all four athletes named to the Olympic Team today, she said. I commend them for their determination and commitment and know theyll make us proud at London.
Walker finished fourth in the final when BMX made its Olympic debut in Beijing. The 23 year old went on to win the world title the following year in Adelaide and took out the UCI Supercross World Cup overall honours last year.
The Cambridge-based rider, who competes for the Rotorua club, was frustrated with a chronic back injury last year and just missed a spot in the final at last months world championships after dislocating her shoulder six weeks earlier. She finished runner-up in the 2011 world championships in Copenhagen.
Willers, also from Cambridge, is now based in California and he credits the move to the ultra-competitive environment as a key to his rise in the sport last year, winning the US National title, the Oceania and North American continental honours and a number of key events including the Supercross World Cup titles at Papendal (NED) and the test event in London. He won every race at the world championships last year until the final where a mistake while leading on the second to last straight saw him finish third.
He too has recovered from injury recently and finished seventh at last months world championships after crashing in the final while challenging for second place.
Pickard, 21, was the 2010 New Zealand champion but after a serious crash racing in Europe, he took some time out of the sport. He returned to impress with his speed, making the quarterfinals at last years world championships but missed out qualifying in Birmingham last month after his foot pulled out of the clip.
Hanlen, 32, is a remarkable story. The Whakatane physiotherapist is a mother of two, and only took up the sport in 2010. She progressed quickly to a stage where she ventured overseas last year on the world cup circuit.
Hanlen has been locked in a battle for selection with Beijing Olympian Rosara Joseph this year, winning the domestic national series and the Oceania title before grabbing a top-10 finish in this years opening World Cup race in South Africa.
She had two more solid results in Europe but a crash on a brutal course in France last month thwarted her final world cup. It also claimed Joseph who broke her wrist in two places during practice, to effectively end her hopes of selection.
Hanlen will be hoping to match Josephs showing in Beijing where she placed ninth.
BikeNZ High Performance Director, Mark Elliott said he is confident of strong showings in both disciplines.
Sarah and Marc are world class performers who are capable of beating the best on their day, Elliott said. Both have had to fight back from injuries which are part and parcel of both this sport and mountain biking as well.
Both riders have the capability to medal in this competition.
Kurt has shown he has the speed to match the best but is learning to be more consistent. He has the potential to make the final in London.
Elliott said he was delighted with the selection of Hanlen in the team.
New Zealand has a history of producing world class womens cross-country mountain bikers from the likes of Kathy Lynch, Susy Pryde, Robyn Wong, Rosara Joseph and now Karen.
To achieve such strong performances with such a short time in the sport, as a working physiotherapist with a young family is outstanding and she has the opportunity now to shine on the biggest stage.
The New Zealand Olympic Team now stands at 93 and is expected to rise to approximately 185 over the next month. Upcoming selections include Bike Road, Equestrian Eventing, Hockey and Football.
Photo credit - Getty Images