Posted by Editoress on 02/15/18
Amelia Walsh has had a very fast rise up the ranks of Canada's national track program to become the senior member of the women's sprint squad in less than two years. Originally a BMX rider with the national team who competed at the 2015 Pan Am Games (finishing ninth), Walsh switched to the velodrome a little over 15 months ago.
"I switched over from BMX on November 1, 2016, and it was a pretty easy choice. At that point I either had to choose to go another four years for BMX or try something else to go to the Olympics. Erin [Hartwell, previous national sprint coach] had constantly been after me to try track racing, so I decided 'why not give it a go'?"
2015 Pan Am Games
Walsh joined the sprint program to work with Kate O'Brien, a Rio Olympian who needed a new partner for the Team Sprint after the retirement of Monique Sullivan following Rio. When O'Brien had a serious crash in training (from which she is still recovering), Walsh became the senior member of the women's sprint program.
"It's been quite a privilege to ride with Kate [O'Brien] in my first year, and we ended up getting a medal [silver in the World Cup at Los Angeles] and top-5 at the world champs, which was pretty cool, but since her crash it's been a bit difficult. I've had to re-focus and race for her to keep some spots [in the rankings], so I've had to step up and change my game."
Leading out in Team Sprint, Track Worlds Hong Kong, China
SIlver Medal Team Sprint, Los Angeles Track World Cup
Her lack of competition and results has meant that Walsh has only been able to qualify for the Sprint at the world championships in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, at the end of the month.
"It kind of sucks, because the Keirin has been going quite well and I really enjoy racing that. I would have had to win a bunch of races to qualify for that [at Worlds] and we missed out on the 500 [metre time trial] by five points."
Walsh is not the first rider to transfer over from BMX, and some skills are similar, but it has not been easy.
"For me, the biggest change was the bike. It's kind of hard to explain, but it feels to me like the track bike is a bit taller and vertical; on a BMX bike you are more spread out and your center of gravity is more stable. On a track bike when I first stood up out of the saddle, it was like 'oh, here we go...'. It was very challenging for me. I find in track cycling there is a lot more discipline in the training [than in BMX]. I don't want to say you have to do a lot more work, but you are able to do a lot more work because fatigue isn't an issue. In BMX, if you are fatigued and go off a jump, then chances are you will crash."
"But a lot of things do transfer over from BMX; it's a high performance environment, and you're racing the best people in the world, but I guess learning the tactics ... I'm starting to get the hang of it."
Walsh admits it has been a fast and steep learning curve.
"I've learned the hard way in the past few months and made some pretty big mistakes ... one of them where I miscounted the laps in the Keirin and actually pulled off with one to go - you only do that once! I've been learning lots and making mistakes, but that's how you do it."
Milton Track World Cup,Team Sprint
Milton Track World Cup, Sprint
Milton Track World Cup, Keirin
She still hasn't decided where her preference lies - Keirin or Sprint.
"To be honest, the Keirin scared the heck out of me; I thought it was terrifying. There's so many people ... the first time I raced it I was very uncomfortable, and I did not like it. I had this idea in my head that I wasn't trained for it. With BMX you can stop pedaling and adjust yourself when someone hits you, with Keirin you're not allowed to hit people [laughs] and there's a lot more rules. But, it's starting become more familiar and I'm more comfortable with it now."
"For the Sprint I just have to train so much more; I'm not even close. To be the best in the world I've got a long way to go. To be honest, I don't really have a favourite, I get excited to race either. Team Sprint is the reason I am here and I still want to train as a P1 [first position], but I have the opportunity to race other events, so I'm enjoying it."
"One thing the last year taught me is that things change so quickly and, no matter what happens, you've got to keep on rolling. You've got to get up in the morning and keep training."
The pressure is only increasing - world championships at the end of February, then Commonwealth Games in April, and finally the start of the Olympic qualification period for 2020.
"Oh boy [laughs]. I'm looking forward to going to Worlds; I always love going to world champs, the atmosphere is really cool. So I'm training for that and then we've got Commonwealth Games - I've never been to a Comm Games before, just Pan Ams for BMX, so I'm looking forward to it. I don't want to stress out for [Olympic qualification], it is what it is and all you can do is train every day, as hard as you can, and it will be what it will be."
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